October 10, 2011 / 3:20 PM / 7 years ago

Pharmasset expands hepatitis C trial; shares rise

(Reuters) - Pharmasset Inc VRUS.O said it will expand a mid-stage trial of its experimental hepatitis C drug with the further addition of two arms, sending its shares to a life-high.

Pharmasset’s PSI-7977, which belongs to a class of compounds called nucleotide analogues, will now be studied for 12 weeks as a single drug treatment, while the other arm will test the drug in combination with ribavirin.

In addition, a previously announced arm of the trial has been modified to an interferon-free 12-week regimen, the company said in a statement.

Hepatitis C affects about 300 million people worldwide, causing 8,000-10,000 deaths each year due to chronic liver disease caused by the virus.

“The rapid and consistent antiviral effects and high barrier to resistance demonstrated with PSI-7977 to date provided the rationale for additional exploratory regimens in this setting,” the company said.

In June, the company had added three arms to the ongoing trial.

Princeton, New Jersey-based Pharmasset’s shares were up 5 percent at $84.48 in morning trading on Monday on Nasdaq. Earlier in the session, they touched a high of $87.29.

Shares of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc (VRTX.O), which competes with Pharmasset and Merck & Co (MRK.N) in the multibillion-dollar hepatitis C market, were down 5 percent at

Reporting by Shailesh Kuber in Bangalore; Editing by Maju Samuel

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