Human Genome pulls plug on 1 drug to focus on another

Marketing rights unclear

company also reports tripling of 1Q losses

April 16, 2002|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Human Genome Sciences Inc. said yesterday that it had stopped developing one drug designed to protect against infections in chemotherapy patients but said it would speed development of another for the same purpose.

It was unclear, however, how soon the Rockville company would have rights to widely market the replacement drug, a longer-acting version of Amgen Inc.'s patented Neupogen.

Separately, the company reported that its first-quarter loss nearly tripled to $38.3 million, or 30 cents a share, and said it was continuing a cost-cutting push. The company reported a loss of $13 million, or 10 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2001. Quarterly revenue was $642,000, down from $5.3 million last year as exclusive data-sharing contracts with five pharmaceutical companies expired.

Shares of Human Genome Sciences fell 60 cents yesterday, or 3.3 percent, to $17.60 on the Nasdaq stock market.

Like Neupogen, many proteins - which generally are injected rather than taken orally - lose their effectiveness after short periods, meaning repeated injections for patients.

Human Genome Sciences is seeking to make longer-lasting versions of a number of protein drugs already on the market, enabling patients to take them less frequently. The company is doing so through a proprietary method in which it fuses albumin, a protein that lasts longer in the bloodstream, to other proteins used as drugs.

The company said yesterday that it plans to apply within the next several weeks to the Food and Drug Administration for human testing of Albugranin, a fusion of albumin and a protein known as G-CSF - the one Amgen calls Neupogen.

Neupogen is aimed at preventing chemotherapy-induced neutropenia, a decline of certain infection-fighting white blood cells. The FDA approved Amgen's own longer-lasting version of Neupogen, called Neulasta, this year.

Human Genome said development of Mirostipen was discontinued because it didn't appear effective enough in clinical trials by itself, though it may be revived later to be used in conjunction with Albugranin.

"It was active in patients," chief executive William A. Haseltine said of Mirostipen on a conference call with analysts. "We just have a better drug."

On the conference call, Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Meirav Chovav asked when Human Genome Sciences could market its competitor drug in the United States, given Amgen's patents. Human Genome executives declined to give a specific answer.

Amgen spokesman Jeff Richardson said Amgen's patents for Neupogen expire in the United States in about 2014 and in Europe in about 2006.

Lehman Bros. analyst James P. Dougherty praised the company's decision to discontinue Mirostipen as a stand-alone treatment for neutropenia, calling it "a relief."

And, despite patent uncertainties, he said the company's strategy of rolling out a number of albumin-fusion drugs was a good one, noting the new drugs simply are longer-acting versions of products already on the market: "You pretty much know these things are going to work."

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