Infinity Pharmaceuticals Bounces Back To Compete in Crowded Field

2/8/13Follow @xconomy

Sometimes in biotech, and in life, you just need to stick it out long enough through the bad times to get to enjoy the good times. The folks at Cambridge, MA-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI) have learned what that’s all about in the last few months.

Infinity suffered a painful setback a year ago, when its lead drug candidate failed in a mid-stage study for pancreatic cancer patients. It stung especially hard because the defeat came less than three years after another Infinity cancer drug flunked the final, most expensive phase of clinical trials.

After burning through more than $250 million of cash with no FDA-approved product on the market, Infinity could have easily found itself living on borrowed time.

Still, rather than making drastic cuts in a last-ditch bid to survive, Infinity ended up bouncing back to have what was probably the most successful year in its 12-year history: The company saw an astonishing six-fold rise in market value, from $5.98 a share on its lowest day of 2012, to $35.02 at yesterday’s close.

The boom was driven in part by increasing scientific validation of the PI3 kinase drug targets it is now focused on for treating cancer and autoimmune disease, and encouraging early results from its own drug, IPI-145.

The performance enabled Infinity to more than regroup. It raised about $260 million in a pair of stock offerings, renegotiated a couple of partnerships to regain full worldwide commercial rights to its lead drug, and began drafting an aggressive clinical trial plan that could put its PI3 kinase inhibitor in position to compete with tough players like Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) and Novartis.

Infinity's Adelene Perkins and Julian Adams

Infinity CEO Adelene Perkins and R&D chief Julian Adams said they have been enjoying a lot of support from their biotech peers, who said they were happy to see Infinity riding high again.

“We have had some ups and downs, and in this business you have to anticipate ups and downs. You plan so that you can have staying power,” Perkins says. “That’s how we approached building Infinity for the last decade. We’re not willing to risk the future of the enterprise on any single product. We’ve been disciplined in building the portfolio, and we’ve benefitted from it.”

The Infinity comeback is based on how investors view its position in the PI3 kinase field, which has been one of the hottest areas of cancer biology for several years.

Scientists have learned this pathway’s job is to stimulate a bunch of cell processes like proliferation, migration, and cell survival. When these normal functions get flipped into an overactive mode, people get cancer. An overactive set of PI3 kinases can also provoke the immune system to go haywire and attack healthy tissue—which leads to debilitating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

One of the key lessons of the past few years is … Next Page »

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