Ziopharm Plunges After Patient Dies in Brain Cancer Study

  • Patient died 15 days after starting experimental gene therapy
  • Death has yet to be reported to U.S. regulators, Ziopharm says

Ziopharm Oncology Inc. plunged as much as 17 percent, the biggest drop in six months, after saying that a patient died of bleeding inside the skull in a trial of its experimental gene therapy to treat brain cancer.

The patient died 15 days after starting the treatment in the early-stage trial, Ziopharm said in a presentation Thursday after the markets closed. The shares were down 16 percent to $4.78 at 10:52 a.m. Friday. The company hasn’t established whether the patient’s death was related to the therapy, according to spokesman David Pitts. He said the death has yet to be reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, Juno Therapeutics Inc. plunged after reporting the death of three patients in a trial of an experimental blood cancer therapy in which immune system cells are removed, genetically engineered to recognize cancer, and reinfused.

“Ziopharm has positioned itself as a safer play in genetically-engineered therapies, so the news could be viewed as a strike against that position,” Eric Criscuolo, an analyst with Mizuho Securities who has a neutral rating on the stock, wrote in a note to clients. “However, more details need to be provided.”

Ziopharm’s therapy, called Ad-RTS-hIL-12, is designed to trigger cells to make a cancer-fighting protein. It’s given in combination with a pill intended to help determine how much of the protein is made, in part so that treatment can be curtailed if dangerous side effects emerge.

The death has just been reported to Ziopharm, spokesman Pitts said by e-mail Thursday. “We are following protocol in collecting and analyzing information in order to properly report it to the FDA.”

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