MorphoSys Chief Says MOR103 Drug Data Makes Deal More Likely

MorphoSys AG has better chances of finding a partner for its experimental arthritis drug after favorable results from a clinical trial, Chief Executive Officer Simon Moroney said.

The compound, named MOR103, would be the first proprietary compound for the Martinsried, Germany-based biotech company, which develops biological drugs for companies such as Roche Holding AG and Novartis AG.

The mid-stage trial showed that the drug improved symptoms in 68 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis by 20 percent, according to results published yesterday. MorphoSys shares rose as much as 16 percent in Frankfurt today and traded 14 percent higher at 22 euros as of 12:50 p.m.

“We are very excited by what we are seeing,” Moroney said in a telephone interview. “After four weeks, which is a short time, we saw a very strong response.”

The substance is designed for patients who can no longer tolerate standard therapies such as steroids, ibuprofen or drugs such as Abbott Laboratories’ Humira and Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade.

Symptoms Retreat

The study, which primarily aimed to establish the drug’s safety, followed 96 patients with a mild to moderate form of the disease. Patients who received the treatment saw their symptoms retreat by 20 percent, as measured by the ACR score, a widely accepted efficacy measure. The study did not show drug-related serious adverse advents, MorphoSys said.

“The results demonstrate the compound’s potential to become an important new drug in an area of unmet medical need,” Olav Zilian, an analyst at Helvea SA in Geneva, said in a note to clients.

The findings give MOR103 an edge over AstraZeneca Plc’s experimental mavrilimumab compound, which works in a similar fashion, Zilian said.

The search for a partner could take six to nine months, Moroney said, with the next clinical trial starting by mid-2013. Should later trials confirm yesterday’s results, MOR103 may in time be as competitive as Remicade or Humira, the CEO said.

Humira was approved for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in 2002. It generated about $8 billion in sales last year for Abbott.

In rheumatoid arthritis, immune cells start attacking the tissue that lines joints, leading to inflammation, according to the American College of Cardiology’s website. At least 1.3 million U.S. adults suffer from the condition.

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