Partnership Now, Payoff Later

I like the move ARIAD Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ARIA  ) just made. I'm not sure it was worthy of the nearly 4% increase that investors assigned to it, but maybe that was more noise than anything else.

Yesterday the development-stage drugmaker announced that it was extending its partnership with MolecularMD to develop a companion diagnostic test for its cancer drug ponatinib. ARIAD is testing ponatinib in patients that have failed other treatments for chronic myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia or patients that might fail because of mutation in T315I mutation. It's the latter group that MolecularMD will develop a test to identify.

Teaming up makes a lot more sense than developing the diagnostic test on its own. Even big drugmakers such as Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) have signed up Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT  ) as a partner rather than developing companion diagnostics on their own.

But it's not like this is going to bring ARIAD any cash. In fact it'll cost the company money as it's responsible for reimbursing expenses that MolecularMD incurs and ARIAD owes the company milestone payments for successfully developing a test.

The payback will come when more patients use the drug down the line. Keep in mind though, ponatinib is only in phase 2 development; the payback is years away.

Most of ARIAD's value is tied up in its phase 3 compound ridaforolimus. The company recently exercised its rights to co-promote the drug with partner Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , so it'll have a sales force ready to market ponatinib when it finally makes it to market.

At a market cap approaching $1 billion, ARIAD isn't particularly cheap, but the risk of ridaforolimus not being approved by the Food and Drug Administration is fairly low given the stellar phase 3 data. Let's just hope that's what investors were thinking when they bid up the stock yesterday.

Keep track of ARIAD as it develops ridaforolimus and ponatinib. Click here to add it to My Watchlist, your free stock tracking tool that aggregates all Foolish analysis of your favorite tickers. 

Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. GlaxoSmithKline is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Abbott Laboratories and GlaxoSmithKline. Motley Fool Alpha LLC owns shares of Abbott Laboratories. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (1)

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  • Report this Comment On March 29, 2011, at 9:02 PM, biotechnique wrote:

    Brian, your comment on ARIAD's Pona "ONLY" being in phase 2 clinical...is inaccurate. This is a Phase 2 pivotal trial, and Pona could easily hit the market within 6 months of Rida. Also, both Rida and Pona have multiple indications that can make them both blockbusters. Investors are also watching the development of ARIAD's 113 ALK inhibitor which greatly outperformed PFE's ALK inhibitor in pre-clinical testing.

    Two major drugs on the market in about a 18 months and you complain about a 1 billion dollar market cap?? ARIAD could easily be a $50+ stock in two years.

    Please watch your phrasing, it may offend some intelligent investors who actually did their DD on

    ARIAD's potential.

  • Report this Comment On March 29, 2011, at 9:06 PM, biotechbro wrote:

    "the payback is years away" is factually INCORRECT. Ariad's CEO Harvey Berger has stated that the current phase 2 trial is a "pivotal" trial with data expected mid-year 2012. This means that the stock will have a major catalyst within 12-18 months. Positive data would result in an approval within 6-10 months of filing. Technically, the stock could pop within 1 year and produce revenues within 2 years. This is VERY DIFFERENT from "payback" being "years away". Also, the data in CML for ponatinib is unprecedented. Neither Gleevec nor Sprycell has been capable of producing responses in T315 mutations - the major resistance for most patients that become relapsed/refractory to currently approved BCR-ABL agents. This is what is driving ARIA valuation. The potential to take down a billion dollar + molecule like Gleevec (not ridafirolimus as the author suggests).

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