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This Week in Biotech: AbbVie Inc (ABBV) and More

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With the SPDR S&P Biotech Index up 20% over the trailing-12-month period, it’s evident that investment dollars are willingly flowing into the biotech sector. Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the rulings, studies, and companies that made waves in the sector last week.

Once again, earnings reports took center stage in the health-care sector, but four big stories still managed to wiggle their way into the fold during the week. However, unlike the previous week, this week’s data was split down the middle between positive and negative news.

AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV)Leading with the positive, ZIOPHARM Oncology Inc. (NASDAQ:ZIOP) reported that its metastatic soft tissue sarcoma drug, palifosfamide, had reached the required number of progression-free survival events as outlined in its stage 3 trial to begin analyzing the data. Obviously, this gives us no indication of the safety or efficacy of the drug, but it’s as good as taking one step up on the multi-step ladder toward an eventual approval of palifosfamide. The independent data monitoring committee will now review the data, and we should have top-line efficacy and safety results by the last week of March. ZIOPHARM shares rose 13% for the week.

Pharmacyclics, Inc. (NASDAQ:PCYC) and development partner Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) received phenomenal news midweek for their rare blood cancer drug, Ibrutinib. The Food and Drug Administration bestowed the “breakthrough therapy” designation on the drug — the first such designation of its kind and a potentially positive sign that early-stage clinical data would be enough proof to approve the drug from the FDA’s standpoint as long as it showed a marked improvement over existing therapies. J&J has already paid Pharmacyclics $300 million in royalties, and Pharmacyclics could nab an additional $675 million based on Ibrutinib’s approval and sales totals. This is definitely a Cinderella story in the making.

On the flipside, clinical data from the recently spun-off AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV) and Amicus Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:FOLD) may give investors heartburn this holiday-lengthened weekend.

On Friday, AbbVie announced the suspension of five clinical trials involving in its promising non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and small lymphocytic leukemia drug, ABT-199, after the death of two patients. According to AbbVie, the highly potent experimental drug can rapidly break down tumors and, in some cases, can trigger acute kidney failure — a condition known as tumor lysis syndrome. The assumption of management is that, with a refined dosage, the suspension will be lifted and the FDA will allow the company to move on to late-stage trials. While I agree with management’s assessment, color me a bit concerned nonetheless with the trial suspension.

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