TG Therapeutics Builds Pipeline Around Cancer and Immune Diseases

8/23/12Follow @arleneweintraub

On August 16, New York-based TG Therapeutics (OTCBB: TGTX) announced that it had formed a deal with a Swiss company called Rhizen Pharmaceuticals to co-develop a drug to treat blood cancers and autoimmune diseases. It was TG’s second transaction in the last five months related to “B-cell diseases,” which are disorders involving key cells in the immune system.

In fact, TG’s entire mission is to find new methods of attacking the toughest B-cell disorders, which include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Its management team is so confident in its chosen niche that they took a shortcut to Wall Street. In April, TG reverse-merged into a struggling publicly traded biotech company called Manhattan Pharmaceuticals, in the hopes of tapping into the public money for research support. “We think there’s a huge opportunity in this area,” says Michael Weiss, TG’s interim CEO and a partner at Opus Point, a New York hedge fund company that invests in life science and healthcare innovations.

Weiss spearheaded the formation of TG in March, when he struck a deal with a French pharmaceutical company called LFB Group to license a B-cell targeting molecule that has shown some promise in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The drug, ublituximab, is an antibody that targets a particular molecule called CD20, which is found on the surface of B-cells. The drug is currently in early-stage human trials and could be ready for late-stage testing within 18 months, Weiss says.

The anti-CD20 space is currently dominated by rituximab (Rituxan), a $7-billion-a-year blockbuster marketed by Roche’s South San Francisco-based unit, Genentech. Weiss says that what makes ublituximab different is that it is designed to amplify the immune response, depleting even more of the problematic B cells than rivals can. In the early trials, he says, 45 percent of patients responded well to TG’s drug, including some people who had relapsed after taking Genentech’s drug.

In addition to developing the drug in leukemia, TG recently started a trial in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. TG is also examining the compound’s potential in autoimmune diseases. Ultimately, Weiss says, the potential market could be worth $15 billion a year.

In conjunction with the LFB deal, TG raised $25 million from a consortium of unnamed investors that includes high-net-worth individuals, Weiss says. Then came the reverse merger. Weiss says he chose to go straight to the public markets with TG simply because … Next Page »

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