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>> The world's leading drug companies may have found their next target, a disease that's on track to become the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020. As of today, as many as 15 million Americans are suffering from the condition clinically known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH and there are no approved treatments for it.
Reuters correspondent Bill Berkrot.>> Initially most of the work in this field has being done by very small biotechs. And so what's happened now is it's the the big pharma companies, the large drug makers have realized this is gonna be an enormous category. We're talking about 20, $30 billion down the road.
>> With a huge pool of patients guaranteed for decades and many of the drugs in development still years from reaching the market, investors are buying shares in little known drug companies working on NASH treatments, who may quickly become takeover targets.>> When Novartis signed a $50 million collaboration with this little, tiny company, Conatus that's working on an end stage drug that they hope will basically save people from transplants.
That little company's stock went from a little under $2 to a little under $5. That's a big jump. When Allergan, which has decided to really get in the game, they bought a couple of companies when they bought Tobira Therapeutics. Tobira stock went from under $5 to $33, took basically out against spending $1.7 billion on this.
>> And that's just the kind of equation investors and big pharma are playing for.