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Good morning, fellow Foolish investors! Let's check in on Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO), ImmunoGen (NASDAQ:IMGN), Roche (NASDAQOTH:RHHBY), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)which are all making headlines today.
Inovio reports positive results for its MERS vaccine
It could be a big day for Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which announced positive results for its MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) vaccine. Inovio stated that the vaccine, which is undergoing preclinical tests, showed robust immune responses in mice. This is positive validation for the synthetic DNA (SynCon) vaccine technology that Inovio's entire pipeline is built on.
MERS surfaced in 2012, and 153 cases have since been reported across nine Middle Eastern countries. Of these cases, 42% have been fatal. The virus is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people a decade ago. MERS is less contagious than SARS, but five times as deadly. To date, there is no vaccine or treatment for the virus.
Inovio does not yet have any marketed products. Its research and development budget is funded by Roche, Merck, government institutions, and academic collaborators. The company believes that research in synthetic vaccines, delivered through electrical pulses (electroporation), will eventually unlock treatments for major diseases such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis C, and malaria.
Inovio investors are particularly looking forward to its upcoming trial data for VGX-3100, a treatment for the prevention of cervical cancer, which is due out by mid-2014. If approved, VGX-3100 would be the third vaccine for cervical cancer on the market, after Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix.
For a closer look at Inovio, check out these three catalysts that could boost the stock.
ImmunoGen and Roche announce EU approval of Kadcyla
It could also be a bright morning for ImmunoGen, which collapsed earlier this month after halting a phase 2 trial of IMGN901, an antibody-drug conjugate, or ADC, for non-small cell lung cancer due to a patient death.
ADCs are nicknamed cancer "smart bombs" since they are lab-created antibodies filled with toxic payloads that seek out cancer cells, link to them, and destroy them from the inside -- sparing healthy cells in the process.
Today, ImmunoGen announced that the European Commission had granted marketing approval for Kadcyla, its HER2-positive breast cancer ADC marketed by Roche. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Kadcyla in February.
Kadcyla, an enhanced version of Roche's top-selling breast cancer drug, Herceptin, is an ADC that consists of Herceptin linked to the cytotoxic agent DM1.
By itself, Herceptin stops cancer cells from spreading by binding to their growth receptors and blocking growth signals, marking them so the immune system can "see" and destroy them. With DM1 added to the mix, Kadcyla does everything Herceptin does, but also injects the toxins directly into the cell.
The approval triggers a $5 million milestone payment to ImmunoGen . Although the news wasn't unexpected, it could help ImmunoGen, which has slid nearly 20% over the past month, attract some investor interest again.
Two things to know about Johnson & Johnson
Last but not least, there are two things investors should know about medical giant Johnson & Johnson today.
J&J announced more concrete settlement numbers for its lawsuits over recalled metal-on-metal hip implants from its DePuy subsidiary. The company now has to pay nearly $2.5 billion in compensation to the 8,000 patients who suffered after tiny metal fragments of the implants broke off and entered the bloodstream, causing tissue and muscle damage.
It also has to cover all medical costs for patients to remove and replace their hip implants -- a cost which could run as high as $3 billion, according to a recent report in The New York Times. That total figure, at $5.5 billion, comes in higher than the $4 billion figure that was widely reported last week. Combined with the $2.2 billion it had to pay to settle the off-label drug marketing lawsuit regarding its antipsychotic drug Risperdal, J&J has lost nearly $8 billion over the past three weeks.
For a closer look at the hip implant debacle and similar cases, check out my previous article on the topic.
Meanwhile, J&J subsidiary Janssen also bought back the royalty rights to Incivo from Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) today for $152 million, which allows J&J to halt royalty payments on Incivo starting in 2014.
Incivo, a hepatitis C treatment, has been a moderately successful drug for J&J, generating $76 million in sales last quarter -- a 7% gain from the prior year quarter. Although that payment won't help much with its recent problems with Risperdal and hip implants, it's still a minor positive development.