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Bristol-Myers Discontinues Development of Hepatitis C Drug

By Nathalie Tadena Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) said Thursday it has discontinued the development of a drug intended to treat the liver disease hepatitis C in the interest of patient safety, after a patient died and others were hospitalized. Bristol-Myers earlier this month voluntarily suspended a Phase 2 study of BMS-986094, which was formerly known as INX-189, a nucleotide polymerase inhibitor, or "nuke." The initial case of heart failure, which was the basis for halting the study, subsequently resulted in death, the company said Thursday. Bristol-Myers said it is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and clinical study investigators to conduct ongoing and close follow-ups of all the study's patients. To date, nine patients have been hospitalized, including the initial patient, and two remain hospitalized. The company said the cause of these unexpected events, which involve heart and kidney toxicity, hasn't been definitively established. Bristol-Myers decision to halt the study earlier this month raised questions about the experimental drug's potential and the $2.5 billion price tag Bristol paid earlier this year to buy the company that developed it. The suspension was considered a significant setback for the drug maker--already grappling with weak sales of its Plavix anticlotting drug that lost patent protection in May--in the race to develop new hepatitis C treatments. Bristol-Myers as well as other companies such as Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) and Abbott Laboratories (ABT) has been looking to bring the first all-oral hepatitis C regimen to market, hoping to tap what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar market for such a therapy. To strengthen its hepatitis C position, Bristol-Myers in February shelled out $2.5 billion to buy Inhibitex Inc. at a whopping 163% premium. Bristol was lured primarily by Inhibitex's nuke for hepatitis C, though it did acquire other potential treatments for infectious disease in the deal. Treatments for hepatitis C are considered lucrative because the disease is prevalent in large sections of the global population. The virus, which can be transmitted sexually or through use of shared needles and at tattoo parlors, affects some 170 million people world-wide. Separately, Synergy Pharmaceuticals Inc. (SGYP) said it has agreed to acquire the assets related to shingles treatment FV-100 from Bristol-Myers. FV-100 was developed by Inhibitex. Shares were up by 10 cents to $32.25 after hours. The stock has fallen 8.8% since the start of the year. -Write to Nathalie Tadena at nathalie.tadena@dowjones.com Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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