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MannKind Corporation (MNKD), Seattle Genetics, Inc. (SGEN), Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY): A Pharmacology Primer for Biotech Investors

In pharmacology, we don’t only have to consider the actions of the drug on the body. It is also important to understand the way the body processes the drug, or the pharmacokinetics.  When you consider that drugs, like the nutrients in food, must be absorbed (A), distributed (D) throughout the body, metabolized (M), and excreted/eliminated (E), pharmacokinetics becomes a critical consideration in drug development. Investors with a keen eye can watch for drugs with innovative ADME profiles and better understand their competitive advantages over comparable therapies.

MannKind Corporation (NASDAQ:MNKD)Here’s a breakdown of just a few companies profiting, or struggling, with the ADME profiles of their drug candidates:

Absorption typically refers to the route by which the drug reaches the bloodstream, and is largely dependent on chemical parameters such as a drug’s solubility, acidity, and size.  These factors dictate the mode of application (oral, topical, IV, etc.) of the drug.  Optimizing a drug candidate’s absorption properties can allow a company to produce drugs that are much more convenient for patients.

MannKind Corporation (NASDAQ:MNKD) is one company exploiting this pharmacokinetic property with an exciting technological advancement. MannKind Corporation (NASDAQ:MNKD)’s Afrezza is aimed at acutely treating both type 1 and type 2 diabetes using the traditional approach: insulin. As a protein, insulin cannot be absorbed through the gut, and it has been classically dosed as an injection or implantable pump for chronic use. Novo Nordisk A/S (ADR) (NYSE:NVO)‘s  Novolog, for example, is a standard injectable therapy that is part of the company’s cornerstone insulin analog franchise. 

Afrezza, unlike Novolog, is an inhalable insulin therapy that has shown comparable efficacy to Novolog and also enhanced safety with a decreased likelihood of hypoglycemia (though a reduction in “severe hypoglycemia” was not significant). What truly underlies the excitement behind this therapy is the pharmacokinetic profile.

MannKind Corporation (NASDAQ:MNKD)’s unique technology has allowed the company to optimize the pharmacokinetics of standard insulin therapy and in a much more comfortable way for the patient. Rather than frequent injections, patients can rely on a single-use inhalable delivery system the size of a thumb drive for fast-acting insulin. Even with Afrezza’s modest clinical trial data, approval from the Food and Drug Administration could spell gains for shareholders because of its comparative advantage over injectable peers.

Once in the blood, drugs are capable of distributing to different compartments, or tissue types, based on their chemical properties. The blood-brain barrier, for example, prevents some drugs from entering the cerebrospinal fluid and affecting the central nervous system.

Part of the explosion of oncology stocks recently is the excitement surrounding tissue-directed therapeutic agents. Several companies have developed the technology to chemically link a chemotherapeutic drug to an antibody that binds specifically to tumor cells.  In that way, tissue distribution of the drug can be optimized by the design of the antibody, rather than carpet-bombing the body with toxic drugs.

Seattle Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:SGEN) is an established company with proprietary antibody-drug conjugate, or ADC, technology. Unlike some of its peers, Seattle Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:SGEN) has recognized significant revenue from sales of an ADC, with Hodgkin lymphoma drug Adcetris bringing in $138 million in 2012. Adcetris uses an antibody that targets its drug specifically to immune cells associated with several types of lymphoma. The company continues to innovate with 12 collaborative efforts supporting a pipeline of 19 clinical-stage drug candidates.

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