Ariad shares soar after cancer drug clears late-stage trial hurdle

Eight months after Merck ($MRK) jumped into the driver's seat to take control of Ariad's late-stage cancer program ridaforolimus, the biotech is reporting that one of its Phase III study turned in statistically significant results. And the news quickly spurred a 36 percent increase in the biotech's share price.

Last May Merck paid Ariad ($ARIA) $50 million in an upfront fee plus another $19 million to cover R&D costs as it reconfigured $514 million in milestones in order to mount the late-stage research charge on the oral drug. Ridaforolimus is an mTOR inhibitor and this study, one of several Phase III trials, was investigating its use against metastatic soft-tissue or bone sarcomas among patients who previously had a favorable response to chemotherapy.  

In the study researchers said that the drug arm demonstrated a 28 percent reduction in the risk of progression when compared to a placebo. There was a 21 percent increase in median progression free survival--an added 3.1 weeks. Ariad has an option on a 25 percent share of the U.S. market. Merck has plans to develop the drug for multiple cancers.

"Patients with metastatic soft-tissue and bone sarcomas have extremely limited treatment options available to them," said Harvey Berger, chairman and chief executive officer of Ariad. "These top-line data illustrate how devastating metastatic sarcomas can be, even in patients who have responded favorably to conventional chemotherapy.

- here's the Ariad release