Cardiome shares sag after Merck delays PhIII study

Investors in Canada's Cardiome Pharma (CRME) are more than a little disappointed to hear that the company's Big Pharma partner Merck isn't going to keep to its late-stage development schedule for the oral formulation of vernakalant, an experimental drug for irregular heartbeat. Once slated for a summer start date, the Phase III study is now up in the air, with no firm countdown in place. The news took some of the wind out of Cardiome's sails, along with a chunk of its stock price, which slid 13 percent.

"Depending on the start of the Phase III program, this is likely to push back our forecast launch date from 2015 to at least 2016," writes Philippa Flint, an analyst at Bloom Burton. "We intend to revisit our financial model once full financial results are available, but for now we assume a launch of 2016." Flint also speculated that the delay could be the result of Merck's tinkering with the program design, possibly adding new goals such as improved safety or easier dosing compared to the market leader.

Merck, however, wasn't in much of a mood to tell Dow Jones why it's experiencing a delay. "Merck remains committed to the vernakalant oral clinical program which is moving forward," a spokesperson says. But when you pay the biotech piper, you get to call the tune and set the tempo. Merck handed over $60 million to Cardiome when it signed up for the pact, along with promises of $300 million more in milestones.

- here's the Dow Jones report