The company currently has a market cap around $100 million; Human Genome Sciences, which owned half of its lupus drug Benlysta, was taken out by GlaxoSmithKline
Of course, it could also be worthless. We are talking about a potential new treatment for lupus, after all.
It's notoriously hard to prove that a drug is effective in treating lupus. Before Benlysta was approved, there was a 52-year drought in the approval of drugs specifically developed for treating the disease. Not that companies didn't try; drugs from Biogen Idec
Anthera ran into that problem with its phase 2 trial for blisibimod. The drug only showed a substantial effect in the most severe patients using the most stringent measurements for improvement of patients' symptoms.
So that's what Anthera is going with. Its two phase 3 trials will enroll patients with severe lupus that haven't improved using corticosteroids. The primary endpoint will be the percent of patients that improved at least eight points or more on the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Response Index, or SRI, which measures patients' symptoms.
I think there's a good chance that blisibimod works, but proving it won't be a walk in the park. In the phase 2 trial, 26% of the pooled placebo patients reported an eight-point increase in their SRI score. That's an awfully large -- and likely awfully variable -- placebo effect that blisibimod needs to overcome.
Despite the potential, investors are right to discount the stock substantially given the potential risk. Invest if you like the thrill of potential monster returns, just keep it to a small percentage of your portfolio.
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