DURHAM, N.C. – Merck & Co Inc said Monday it would buy Idenix Pharmaceuticals for $3.85 billion.

According to reports, the company plans to combine the two companies’ most promising drugs to produce a faster, more effective cure for hepatitis C.

Merck said it would pay $24.50 per share, more than three times Idenix’s Friday closing price of $7.23.

The payoff for Merck could come from a triple therapy that may cure patients with all genotypes, or strains, of the hepatitis C virus in as little as four to six weeks, its research chief, Roger Perlmutter, said in an interview with Reuters.

The deal comes as drugmakers aim to better compete with Gilead Sciences’s GILD.O Sovaldi, an $84,000 treatment approved in December that generated an unprecedented $2.3 billion in sales in the first few months on the market. The cost of Sovaldi, which cures well in excess of 90 percent of patients in as little as 8 weeks of treatment, has drawn sharp criticism from insurers and government officials.

Idenix has three drugs in development to treat hepatitis C, most notably a pill in early-stage trials called IDX21437. Like Sovaldi, it is a nucleotide inhibitor – or “nuc” – that blocks a protein needed by the hepatitis C virus to replicate. Merck hopes to combine IDX21437 with its two high-profile experimental oral treatments, a protease inhibitor called MK-5172 and a so-called NS5A inhibitor called MK-8742 that together received a “breakthrough therapy” designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to additional reports Monday.

Based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) employs 1,400 workers in the Research Triangle Park area, mostly in a manufacturing facility in north Durham.

Idenix’s shares soared 232 percent to $24.03 on Monday. Shares of Achillion Pharmaceuticals ACHN.O, another maker of hepatitis C drugs, jumped 42 percent. Merck’s shares were down slightly.