GSK adds Bristol-Myers pipeline drugs to challenge Gilead in HIV

It wasn't all that long ago that GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) was considering a spinoff for its HIV drugs division, ViiV Healthcare. Now, though, the company is hanging on tight to that business--and building it up, too.

Friday, the British pharma giant announced an agreement to buy up Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) pipeline of HIV meds, a deal that could end up tallying nearly $1.5 billion when all is said and done. With the Bristol-Myers candidates will come fostemsavir, a Phase III compound and FDA-designated breakthrough therapy.

The move reinforces Glaxo's commitment to ViiV, which hauled in £622 million ($927 million) in Q3 to post a 67% year-over-year sales surge. And it's those kinds of sales performances--propelled by fast-growing newcomers Tivicay and Triumeq--that prompted the drugmaker to hang onto ViiV after weighing a divestment. With struggling respiratory behemoth Advair weighing down Glaxo's pharma sales--and a new focus on driving volume in low-margin businesses vaccines and consumer health--ViiV's contributions have recently become all the more important.

Shareholders gave "very strong feedback that we should retain that business," GSK CEO Andrew Witty told shareholders on the company's Q3 earnings call, pointing out that over the course of that period expectations for the business grew "almost exponentially."

"We took the decision not to separate it because we believed we were the best owners," he said. "… And I think we've been vindicated since."

And now, HIV leader Gilead ($GILD) may have to watch its back. Glaxo is working to steal market share from its Big Biotech rival with drugs that simplify treatment regimes--like the three-in-one cocktail Triumeq--with an eye on more than $6 billion in sales by 2020. And in July, ViiV CEO Dominique Limet told Bloomberg that the company was "developing a new generation of products that will be even more competitive with Gilead's portfolio." 

- read Glaxo's release

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