The New Billion Dollar Tekmira Includes Promising Hep B Drug

Published: Jan 20, 2015

The New Billion Dollar Tekmira Includes Promising Hep B Drug
January 19, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

In a deal being described as “transformational,” Tekmira Pharmaceuticals ’ decision to merge with privately-held OnCore Biopharma could spark a new revolution in hepatitis B drugs, after the company said it will refocus its efforts to eight new drugs targeting HBV as it attempts to dominate that market the way Gilead Sciences, Inc. has claimed the hepatitis C space.

Tekmira appears to be most interested in OnCore’s developmental NeuroVive drug candidate, NVP018, for the treatment of chronic HBV infection. The moneymaking potential of finding a possible “cure” for HPB the way Gilead has with its lucrative Harvoni and Sovaldi treatments for HCV looms large for Tekmira, who will be targeting the million people who have HBV.

Shares of Tekmira surged 40 percent on the news on the merger last week and have continued their climb heading into Monday trading. That lift has been surprising to analysts, who have pointed out the deal will bring a 100 percent dilution of Tekmira’s stock value as required to consummate the 50/50 merger.

The deal is slated to close in the first half of 2015 and will boost Tekmira’s market cap from $300 million to $1 billion.

Treatments for HBV remain the key to that valuation, however. Most currently available therapies aim to suppress this infection but do not lead to a cure in the overwhelming majority of patients. As of now, NVP018 is referred to as OCB-030 in OnCore’s portfolio of product candidates, where OnCore has been testing the drug.

“I walk away with a very positive view of the merger as the synergies between the companies’ technology platforms increases the probability of their success in developing a clinically effective treatment for Hepatitis B and may also reduce the time to market of such a treatment,” said NeuroVive’s COO Jan Nilsson in a statement.

Another major issue? The increasingly crowded C-level suite for the newly combined company, which will have five OnCore people execs ruling the company jointly with four of Tekmira’s, including its CEO Mark Murray, who will stay on in that capacity. That will probably lead to a winnowing down of the executive ranks sometime in the near future, said analysts, though when and how that happens will be anybody’s guess.

Indeed, Gilead’s blockbuster HCV drug Sovaldi was originally developed by OnCore scientists when they were at Pharmasset, before Gilead snapped it up for $11 billion in 2011, note The Cantech Letter.

“For its part Tekmira brings its own HBV candidate to the proposed merger, TKM-HBV. Late in 2014 Tekmira announced Health Canada clearance to start a Phase I study with TKM-HBV. That would make TKM-HBV the most advanced HBV drug in new Tekmira’s 8 drug HBV pipeline,” wrote blogger Hogan Mullally.

“Clearly, TKM-HBV fits strategically in the new HBV focused company, but the fit for Tekmira’s pipeline of other RNAi based drugs is less clear,” said Mullally. “Assuming a successful merger, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the new Tekmira streamline its pipeline by divesting, or maybe discontinuing, certain RNAi projects/products.”

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