Actelion hunts for answers about 120 deaths in key drug trial

Actelion ($ATLN) CEO Jean-Paul Clozel has been clear about the importance of macitentan for the Swiss biotech's future in the blockbuster market for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) drugs. So investors appeared to take notice when it was reported that 120 patients in a late-stage trial for the key drug had died, and the company's uncertain about what causes the deaths.

The company's stock took a hit today, and part of the concern appears to surround Clozel's comment quoted in Bloomberg that he thinks it's unlikely the trial for macitentan--which the company is hoping will replace revenue from its PAH drug Tracleer--will show a survival benefit. Yet the lack of a survival benefit won't determine the success of the trial, which involves more than 700 patients and is expected to yield more complete data in the second quarter of the year.

"The stock has taken a nosedive on what appears to be a misinterpretation around CEO comments regarding the all-important SERAPHIN trial," an unnamed analyst told Reuters. "Nothing negative was said, and we still wait for the data Q2 2012. Expect the stock to recover."

Analysts have given the PAH trial for macitentan good odds of success--a nice change for Actelion after a series of pipeline setbacks that have stirred gossip about the company's chances of continuing as an independent organization. The company reported its business swung to a loss in 2011 after rival PAH drugs ate into the sales of its top-selling Tracleer.

- read Actelion's earnings statement
- check out Bloomberg's report
- see the Reuters article
- and the item from The Guardian