In the new generation of hepatitis C treatment regimens, drugs called nucleotide analogs, or "nucs," are the golden ticket.
Gilead Sciences' blockbuster drug Sovaldi, which it acquired in its $11 billion purchase of Pharmasset, is a nuc. Idenix, which agreed to be acquired by Merck Monday for $3.9 billion—more than three-times its closing market value Friday—is developing a nuc. Bristol-Myers bought Inhibitex in 2012 for $2.5 billion for its nuc, only to unwind the program later as safety issues arose.
Achillion Pharmaceuticals, a $411 million market cap company based in New Haven, Connecticut, has a nuc in development. And the market's recognizing its potential value—Achillion shares soared 48 percent Monday on speculation it would be the next target. It's up another 61 percent Tuesday after the company issued a clinical update, saying it's begun dosing a proof-of concept study of its nuc, called ACH-3422. Data are expected in the fall.
Achillion's been a takeover target for years. But as CNBC reported Monday, Merck's acquisition of Idenix came after a bidding war that included Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie. Both those companies and others, say analysts, may still be looking.