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bluebird bio Inc: Catnapping in Cambridge

By Brian Orelli, PhD - May 12, 2016 at 10:04PM

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A sleepy first-quarter update from the biotech.

bluebird bio (BLUE 3.38%) released earnings last week. Without any meaningful revenue, or much to fill in about the company's pipeline, it was a sleepy first-quarter update for the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech.

bluebird bio results: The raw numbers

Metric

Q1 2016 Actuals

Q1 2015 Actuals

(Decline) YOY

Revenue

$1.5 million

$6.3 million

(76%)

(Loss) from Operations

($57.4 million)

($24.9 million)

N/A

(Loss) Per Share

($1.52)

($0.76)

N/A

Data source: Company press release.

What happened with bluebird bio this quarter?

  • bluebird bio's revenue comes from collaborations, which is often amortized over multiple quarters, so the decline is nothing to worry about.
  • It was a fairly sleepy first quarter for bluebird bio on the data-presentation front.
  • After the quarter ended, in April, bluebird bio presented data from its Starbeam study of Lenti-D in CALD at AAN. The data suggests that the treatment could be as good as the current treatment, hematopoietic stem-cell transplant, with a better safety profile.
  • The Northstar study of LentiGlobin in patients with transfusion-dependent thalassemia is fully enrolled. That's one of the two trials from which EU regulators have said they want to see the results.
  • Outside of gene therapy, the company started a phase 1 trial for its anti-BMCA CAR T therapy, bb2121, in relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma. Celgene (CELG) exercised its license on the drug, resulting in a $10 million payment from Celgene.
  • The company ended the quarter with $827 million in the bank.

What management had to say

As it often does when there's not much to update, management didn't hold a conference call associated with the earnings announcement. We did get a couple of quotes from chief bluebird Nick Leschly:

In early 2016, we achieved two crucial clinical milestones: treating the first patient in the Phase 1 study of our anti-BMCA CAR T therapy bb2121, and presenting the first clinical data from our Starbeam study of Lenti-D in boys with CALD. We are very pleased with this significant progress as we continue to build our T cell immunotherapy and HSC gene therapy platforms.

It's interesting that Leschly led off with bb2121, not the gene-therapy platform that's more advanced. Perhaps he's more excited about the new program, although maybe that's reading too much into the order of the quote. Of course, Celgene is interested in it, even though it has a much larger CAR T deal with Juno Therapeutics, which should give investors some confidence in bb2121's potential.

Looking forward

We knew this was going to be a slow year for data from bluebird bio, and it's living up to those expectations. The biggest data won't come until the American Society of Hematology meeting in December.

Until then, investors can look forward to an update in the second half of the year on improving the production of LentiGlobin to hopefully make the treatment more effective. The company also plans to start the HGB-207 study in patients with transfusion-dependent thalassemia with the non-beta0/beta0 genotype in the second half of the year. This is one of the studies required for approval in the U.S.

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