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The Associated Press December 2, 2011, 11:32AM ET

Bristol-Myers, J&J form hepatitis C partnership

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Friday it will collaborate with a unit of Johnson & Johnson to study a potential combination therapy for chronic hepatitis C.

The companies will study a regimen that combines Johnson & Johnson's drug TMC435 with Bristol-Myers Squibb's daclatasvir. The clinical trial of the drug cocktail will begin in the first half of 2012. It will include a combination of the two drugs, the drugs plus pegylated interferon and ribavirin, and the drugs plus ribavirin.

Pegylated interferon and ribavirin have been staples of hepatitis C treatment for decades. Several drugmakers are studying potential treatments that could work without interferon, which is given by IV and is associated with particularly severe side effects. That could allow patients to treat their hepatitis C infections using only pills. Some studies are testing experimental drugs alone and without ribavirin.

Bristol-Myers of New York and Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., did not disclose the terms of their partnership.

Tibotec Pharmaceuticals is part of J&J's Janssen Pharmaceuticals business. In July the company announced a partnership with Pharmasset Inc. that will combine TMC435 with Pharmasset's PSI-7977, which is considered one of the most promising of all the current experimental therapies for hepatitis C in part because it's an oral treatment. Bristol-Myers is conducting late-stage trials of daclatasvir.

Shares of Johnson & Johnson fell 36 cents to $64.08 in morning trading, while Bristol-Myers Squibb stock rose 24 cents to $33.14.

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