How One Tweet From Bernie Sanders Sent Ariad's Stock Plunging

Published: Oct 19, 2016

How One Tweet From Bernie Sanders Sent Ariad's Stock Plunging October 17, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One tweet. That’s all it took from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to cause shares of Ariad Pharmaceuticals to drop 15 percent on Friday.

In recent years Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, has been known to condemn companies for actions he sees as greedy. On Friday, that’s exactly what he called the leadership of Ariad Pharmaceuticals for systematically increasing the price of its leukemia drug, Iclusig, more than 73 percent since the drug’s launch in 2012—all of this despite problems that actually caused the drug to be temporarily pulled.

Iclusig is a BCR-ABL kinase inhibitor aimed at the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia. When the product launched in 2012, it was priced at $9,580 per month. However, over the course of the years, Ariad has raised the price, all while its target population was shrinking, to $16,560 per month—a total price of $198,720 per patient annually. The drug now has a higher price tag than other CML drugs, such as Tasigna and Sprycel.

Last week, The Street’s Adam Feuerstein highlighted how the company managed to increase the price over the past few years despite the struggles the company has had with the drug. In 2013, the company halted marketing it after the FDA warned about dangerous side effects. The FDA allowed the drug back on the market by the end of the year, but at that time it included new cardiovascular warnings and its use was restricted to a smaller class of patients as a second-line treatment.

Ariad told Feuerstein the price increases are justified as the drug "addresses an area of high unmet medical need in an ultra-orphan patient population of around 1,000-2,000 patients per year.” Additionally, Ariad told CNBC that it “spent 143 percent of its total revenue in 2015 in research and development for treatments of rare cancers.”

It was Feuerstein’s story, picked up by other publications including BioSpace and Stat News, which brought it to the attention of Sanders who reacted with disgust. On Friday he tweeted “Drug corporations’ greed is unbelievable. Ariad has raised the price of a leukemia drug to almost $199,000 a year.” In his tweet, Sanders shared a link to the Stat News story. Following the tweet, shares of Ariad plunged from $12.77 at lunchtime to $11.18 by 2 p.m. The stock rallied a bit late Friday, but petered back out to close at $11.14 per share.

Ariad is seeking to expand the use of Iclusig. Iclusig is involved in several clinical trials, including the OPTIC-2L trial, a Phase III study in patients with chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia (CP-CML) who did not respond to imatinib. It is also currently enrolling patients in the OPTIC trial of Iclusig to evaluate three different doses of the drug in patients with refractory CP-CML. In September Iclusig was approved in Japan for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) resistant or intolerant to preceding drug treatment and relapsed or treatment resistant Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL).

Sanders’ tweet isn’t the first time a pharma company stock has felt the bite of a social media firestorm. Last year, following the 5,000 percent price increase of Turing Pharmaceutical’s daraprim, Clinton announced her intentions to implement a price cap on prescription medicines of $250 to avoid “price gouging.” Her comments in September 2015 caused numerous biotech stocks to fall an average of 2 percent. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index dropped 4.4 percent and the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF dropped by 6 percent.

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