The hepatitis C virus (HCV), the most common cause of viral hepatitis, results in inflammation of the liver. The American Association of Liver Disease estimates that more than 170 million people are infected with HCV around the world; without proper treatment, chronic hepatitis can lead to permanent liver damage, including liver failure or death.

Despite the statistics, there are currently only few options available for treatment of HCV infection. Achillion Pharmaceuticals Inc. focuses on developing treatments for patients with infectious diseases such as HCV, resistant bacterial infections and HIV.

The company today announced its nomination of ACH-2684 as the lead clinical candidate for its third-proprietary program designed to develop solutions against infectious disease. The company said ACH-2684 shows “excellent potency” in pre-clinical studies against hepatitis C infection.

“We are quite pleased to announce a clinical candidate from our third proprietary HCV program, further demonstrating our robust drug discovery expertise in this important therapeutic area. The compound, with its potency–resistance profile and preliminary safety characteristics, has the potential to be highly complementary to both our Gilead-partnered NS4A antagonist compounds as well as our ACH-1625 protease inhibitor, which recently achieved strong proof-of-concept results,” Michael D. Kishbauch, Achillion’s president and CEO stated in the press release. “We expect to move to IND-enabling pre-clinical testing of ACH-2684, and initiate a phase 1/1b study in 2011.”

Milind S. Deshpande, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Achillion, said the compound has demonstrated singular power against HVC, as well as when used in combination with other inhibitors.

“The potency and virology profile of ACH-2684 demonstrates that it very effectively suppresses a broad range of natural variants of the hepatitis C virus, and may be effective in prevention and treatment of emerging resistant variants. This compound also retains potent activity against all genotypes. The very high potency of ACH-2684 was achieved by optimizing its interactions against NS3 protease. We have demonstrated in vitro that ACH-2684 can be used in combination with other HCV inhibitors, and that it is synergistic with NS5B nucleoside polymerase inhibitors,” Dr. Deshpande stated in the press release. “We have leveraged our expertise in HCV drug discovery and structure-based design to create a set of compounds, including ACH-2684, that are part of a discrete intellectual property estate and to which we currently retain all commercial rights.”