Idenix Shares Drop as Novartis Walks Away From Hepatitis C Drug

10/30/09Follow @xconomy

Shares of Cambridge, MA-based Idenix Pharmaceuticals plummeted in early trading this morning after Novartis declined an option to further develop an Idenix drug for the liver disease hepatitis C.

Idenix (NASDAQ: IDIX) dropped 14 percent to $2.15 shortly after the opening bell this morning after the announcement, and the stock was downgraded by the investment firm Caris & Co. The stock has lost about two-thirds of its value now since the beginning of the year, when it started at $5.79.

Idenix will now retain full worldwide commercial rights to IDX184, and it will look for another partner to support further development, said Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, Idenix’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. But any other company is certainly going to ask a lot of questions about the drug, given the closeness of Idenix’s relationship with Novartis. The Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant held a majority ownership stake in Idenix, 53 percent, on April 1, according to Idenix’s most recent proxy statement, and Novartis markets another drug Idenix developed telbivudine (Tyzeka) for patients with hepatitis B.

IDX184 is designed to be a once-daily pill that’s active specifically in the liver, where the hepatitis C virus causes damage. It is Idenix’s lead drug candidate for hepatitis C, and it passed a preliminary clinical trial that demonstrated it was safe and had anti-viral activity in a three-day study, Idenix has said. Idenix said today in a separate statement that it plans to release more detailed results from that trial this weekend at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the big annual meeting for hepatitis C drugs which is being held this year in Boston.

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