Transgene SA is reviewing the strategy for its experimental hepatitis C treatment and is unlikely to find a partner for the therapeutic vaccine soon, Chief Executive Officer Philippe Archinard said.
The French drug researcher, controlled by the Merieux family, is developing the TG4040 compound for use with the injection drug interferon, a standard treatment that will probably soon be replaced by newer medicines taken in the form of pills, Archinard said in a telephone interview.
“We’ll have to find an intelligent path” for TG4040, he said. “In this new context of oral treatments, it’s true that the place for a therapeutic vaccine isn’t obvious.”
Pharmaceutical companies have been rushing to get new medicines for hepatitis C, a liver disease which the Geneva-based World Health Organization says afflicts as many as 150 million people. Treatment with injection drugs including interferon, which is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, may last as long as a year. New drugs in testing, developed by companies such as Gilead Sciences Inc. and AbbVie Inc., are taken as pills, with shorter treatment durations and fewer side effects.
Transgene shares lost 3.5 percent to close at 8.58 euros in Paris trading today, the steepest single-day decline since Oct. 10. They had climbed as much as 0.9 percent earlier in the session. This gives the Illkirch, France-based company a market value of 272.6 million euros ($365 million).
In an April interview, Archinard said the company was aiming for a TG4040 partnership by the end of 2012.
Transgene may reposition the product for hard-to-treat patients, and is also considering use of TG4040 in China, where interferon therapy is likely to remain standard treatment for longer, Archinard said.
The company may eventually seek a partnership for a mid-stage trial using TG4040 together with a newer treatment, instead of interferon therapy, he added.
“It would be more a proof-of-concept partnership, rather than a sort of licensing deal,” Archinard said. “One cannot expect a partnership today because the paradigm has changed.”
Additional data on TG4040 will be presented in April, Archinard said.
While “the path in hepatitis C isn’t simple,” Transgene has a “very beautiful card to play” with its experimental hepatitis B therapeutic vaccine, which is still in a pre-clinical phases of testing, but is already attracting the interest of pharmaceutical companies, Archinard said.
Transgene is “very confident” it will reach a partnership for the compound, called TG1050, “for sure before the summer,” Archinard said.
“Given that the game is pretty much over for hepatitis C, there are a lot of actors that want to position themselves on hepatitis B, where there is a huge medical need,” he said.
Therapeutic vaccines help the body fight a disease once it occurs, instead of immunizing it in advance to prevent disease from taking hold.
Transgene expects to publish mid-stage trial results on its TG4010 experimental lung cancer vaccine in the third quarter this year, Archinard also said. Novartis AG, which acquired an option on the rights to the product in 2010, will then have 90 days to exercise that option, he said.
“If the data are in line with our expectations, and in line with previous data, I am confident about the capacity of Novartis to exercise its option,” Archinard said.
Transgene ended 2012 with about 90 million euros in cash and cash equivalents, covering the company roughly for the next two years, he said.