Eli Lilly, Vertex Pair to Fight Hepatitis

CAMBRIDGE, Mass-In 1997, officials from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly decided to take a chance on a new biotechnology company, Vertex, by investing some $10 million.

Five years later, the two companies have come together to announce Phase I clinical trial expectations of a new compound they have created to combat hepatitis C. Researchers at the companies have developed a protease inhibitor compound that limits the reproductive ability of the hepatitis C virus-similar to protease inhibitors currently being used to fight HIV/AIDS.

Lilly paid a $5 million milestone payment to Vertex after the drug candidate was selected. Along with other pharmaceutical companies, Lilly has interest in the new project because more than 2.7 million Americans suffer from hepatitis C infection. The virus causes liver inflammation, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Some 8,000 Americans died annually from hepatitis C.

Current treatments include immunity-boosting drugs that do not work for all patients.

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