Five Questions: Acorda CEO Ron Cohen on the Future of Neurology R&D

4/17/12Follow @arleneweintraub

Hawthorne, NY-based Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR) held its first R&D day for Wall Street analysts in six years today, and when CEO Ron Cohen was asked ‘why now?’ his answer was simple. The company had been focused all those years on getting its multiple sclerosis drug dalfampridine (Ampyra) approved, Cohen says. “Until all of that was done, we really didn’t have the bandwidth to do much else.”

While Acorda didn’t announce any news at the meeting today, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, its executives had plenty to review about the company’s pipeline, which has grown considerably in the two years since dalfampridine was cleared for sale. The company continues to study dalfampridine, having launched studies in both stroke and cerebral palsy. Acorda has also struck a few deals to fill out its mid-to-late-stage pipeline. Last summer it acquired an experimental drug to treat spinal cord injuries from Medtronic (NYSE: MDT). More recently, in February of this year, the company announced an agreement with Neuronex to acquire a late-stage product to treat epileptic seizures.

Prior to today’s meeting, Cohen (who is also one of our Xconomists) sat down with Xconomy to answer some questions about Acorda’s pipeline, its focus on developing treatments for neurologic disorders, and its growth strategy.

Xconomy: You’re starting new trials of dalfampridine in new indications, including cerebral palsy. What’s attractive to you about the CP market?
Ron Cohen: There’s a tremendous unmet need in CP. People with CP have primarily the same issues as people with MS have: motor weakness, sensory weakness, spasticity, cognitive issues, walking issues, and so forth. Right now there’s nothing really that’s specifically indicated to approve neurological function in those people. Our hope is if it works, it will improve function to help them walk better and to use their arms and legs better.

X: What was the thinking behind the Neuronex deal?
RC: Fundamentally we’re interested in innovative products. One definition of innovative is a product that meets a serious unmet need in medicine. The Neuronex drug, a diazepam nasal spray, falls in that category. It’s an old drug—a well-known drug—but the method of the delivery is so novel, and that in itself constitutes an innovation that is beneficial to patients. Diazepam is highly effective at stopping seizures. For patients with epileptic disorders who have seizures periodically, and in particular those who are not perfectly controlled on anti-epileptic drugs, many times they can have repetitive seizures, which can be quite dangerous. They need a way of immediately breaking the cycle. Typically they have to go to the emergency room to get an IV of diazepam. The oral form isn’t good because it takes too long to work, and if someone is seizing, you don’t want to give them something to swallow. One of the needs of these people is to have something they can use at home. This is a nasal spray. You can just take it out and put two puffs in your nose, and you’re done.

The plan is to apply to the FDA for a new drug application (NDA) this year. We took an option to close the deal with Neuronex. So we paid $3.2 million, which includes research funding, and that will take us through the pre-NDA meeting with the FDA. Once we go through that with the Neuronex folks, we’ll make the determination of what we think the prospects are. If we like it, we’ll close the deal.

X: Will you be out looking for other acquisition targets?
RC: We’re always alert to potential opportunities out there. Our plate is pretty full given our current size and capabilities. For us to bring in something now, it would have to be even more compelling than usual. We’re looking more in the commercial realm, where we can leverage … Next Page »

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