Pharmacyclics Hits Highest Price in Decade on Drug Status

Pharmacyclics Inc., a drugmaker developing an experimental therapy for blood cancers, rose to its highest level in more than a decade after gaining “breakthrough” status from U.S. regulators.

Pharmacyclics rose 9.5 percent to $77.03 at the close in New York, its biggest single-day increase in a year and the highest price since March 2000. The Sunnyvale, California-based company’s share value has tripled in the previous 12 months.

The breakthrough designation by the Food and Drug Administration may lead to quicker approval. Pharmacyclics and its partner, New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, will submit the therapy, ibrutinib, to the FDA for marketing clearance before the end of the year, the companies said yesterday in separate statements.

“This is a historic moment in oncology,” Bob Duggan, chief executive officer of Pharmacyclics said in the statement. “We are truly honored to have received this breakthrough designation and are pleased for patients and clinicians with the FDA’s decision to expedite the development of ibrutinib.”

The breakthrough status was created in legislation passed last year reauthorizing the FDA’s user fee programs for drug and device reviews. Companies that receive the distinction will have closer communication with top FDA staff to move drugs for serious diseases to market more quickly, Janet Woodcock, director of the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said yesterday in an interview.

New drugs generally need three phases of clinical testing on safety and effectiveness to win FDA approval. Woodcock said the breakthrough status may lead to approval after just an expanded early stage clinical trial.

Enzyme Blocker

Ibrutinib blocks an enzyme called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase that aids certain cancers in spreading. The drug was given breakthrough status for patients with Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, and mantle cell lymphoma patients that have failed other therapies. Pharmacyclics said it’s currently testing the drug in five late-stage trials.

Mantle cell lymphoma is a type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma that typically strikes older adults, with about 5,000 new cases each year, Pharmacyclics said. Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia is a rare type of lymphoma that affects 1,500 people a year and there are no approved treatments.

More than a decade ago, Pharmacyclics had a similar share rise pushed by a promising drug. In February 2000, the company peaked at $85 on its experimental brain cancer drug Xcytrin. The treatment failed in a late-stage trial, plunging the stock 57 percent to $9.39 in December 2001.