What happened

After shares got crushed yesterday over safety concerns for its lead drug candidate, shares of Esperion Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ESPR) were down another 22% at 12:30 p.m. EDT today following a J.P. Morgan downgrade.

So what

As fellow Fool Maxx Chatsko pointed out, Esperion Therapeutics shares got obliterated yesterday after the company reported that 0.9% of patients taking its cholesterol-lowering drug, bempedoic acid, passed away in a study evaluating its use alongside statins. For comparison, only 0.3% of patients died in the placebo arm of its study.

A man in a dress shirt in tie on a laptop with steam coming out of his ears.

Image source: Getty Images.

Management provided additional insight into the cause of deaths later in the day, but that didn't keep J.P. Morgan from downgrading Esperion Therapeutics shares to an underweight.

According to Esperion Therapeutics, its drug wasn't to blame for the deaths. Five of the 13 deaths in the bempedoic acid arm of its study were related to cardiovascular disease and another five were caused by cancer. Gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis, caused two deaths and one death was because of a neurological problem that may have been a stroke.

Nevertheless, the safety concern cast a shadow over the otherwise good news that adding bempedoic acid to maximally tolerated statin therapy reduced bad cholesterol levels by an additional 18%.

Now what

Over 600,000 Americans die annually because of heart disease, so new prevention treatment options in the indication are needed. Statins are the most widely prescribed medicines in the world, but millions of patients fail to meet their bad cholesterol target and side effects often result in patients discontinuing statin therapy.

Additional trials evaluating bempedoic acid in combination with statins and Zetia, an add-on therapy that lowers bad cholesterol, are ongoing, and results from a phase 3 trial in statin-intolerant patients is still expected this month. It's anyone's guess if future trial data will add to safety concerns or remove them, but the market opportunity for lowering bad cholesterol is massive, and a halving of this company's stock price over the past two days could make it a bargain for aggressive investors who are willing to take the risk this company's drug is a bust.

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