Bristol-Myers Squibb buys Inhibitex for $2.5 billion

Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has five New Jersey facilities, said it will buy Inhibitex for approximately $2.5 billion or $26 per share, with the hope of competing better in the market for hepatitis C drugs.

Beyond the molecular specifics of drugs in the Inhibitex pipeline, the announcement allows BMS to remind the pharmaceutical community that it hasn't stopped its strategy of acquiring companies or forging partnerships just because Jeremy Levin departed the company to take over Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. That strategy was given the name "string of pearls," and helped boost the company since 2007.

“Bristol-Myers Squibb continues to drive advances in the field of hepatitis C research and development through internal development and selective partnerships,” said Elliott Sigal executive vice president, chief scientific officer and president, R&D, Bristol-Myers Squibb, in a statement released by the company. “The addition of Inhibitex’s nucleotide polymerase inhibitor to our own promising portfolio, which includes other direct-acting antivirals, brings additional options to develop all-oral regimens with better cure rates, shorter duration of therapy and lower toxicity than the current standard of care.”

Hepatitis C could be a $20 billion worldwide market, according to some published estimates, but it is undergoing fast change after years of few developments.

About 3.2 million Americans have the hepatitis C virus, which can cause liver diseases of several types, including cancer and cirrhosis. But doctors say they suspect a larger number of people unknowingly have the disease because its signs are not immediately acute in many patients and the early symptoms -- fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite -- are sometimes equated with flu.

Merck, which has big operations in West Point, was first to market with a new hepatitis C treatment in April, which represented the greatest change in treatment in more than a decade. But Vertex Pharmaceuticals got approval the next day for its drug.

Other treatments have been on the way and all pharmaceutical manufacturers in this market are trying to find a treatment that is simpler than prior treatments.

Inhibitex is based in Alpharetta, Ga.