Corbus who? A tiny biotech enters the ring with a hulking Vertex

For a company you've never heard of, Corbus Pharmaceuticals has had quite a run. A few weeks ago the little Norwood, MA-based biotech made the leap from the OTC market into Nasdaq ($CRBP) with a market cap of less than $80 million. A few days later it garnered a small but notable award worth up to $5 million from the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics to help cover the costs of an upcoming Phase II study for its sole clinical asset, an anti-inflammatory for CF called Resunab. And on Monday evening it was feted in a glowing piece from Reuters portraying the company as a rival to Vertex ($VRTX).

Vertex, you'll recall, is the company that gained an approval for Kalydeco to treat a subset of CF patients, and has big plans to expand on that with a likely approval for its combo treatment. Bullish expectations for Vertex have created a market cap of $30 billion, a figure that more than dwarfs its opponent's.   

As the Reuters piece notes, Thomson Reuters Cortellis has pegged peak potential sales of Kalydeco at $1.1 billion. But the wire service also touts one analyst's opinion that Resunab could be a $2 billion drug. And the CEO did nothing to downplay those expectations.

"We're not focusing on a particular subset of patients, like Vertex's drug," Chief Executive Yuval Cohen told Reuters.

Corbus has been working on a theory that targeting the CB2 receptor pathway found in lymphocytes, dendritic cells, macrophages, glial cells and other immune cells can turn off a signal for chronic inflammation. And it has a long way to go before establishing its proof-of-concept in clinical trials.

Corbus's share prices were helped, a little, by the comparison. Its shares surged about 5%--15 cents--on the tribute from Reuters. But evidently comparing Corbus's chances with Vertex's position was more than many investors could find creditable. 

- here's the Reuters story