In fresh setback Anthera shares blitzed as lupus drug flunks PhIIb

In yet another round of bitter news for Anthera Pharmaceuticals, shares of the company were blitzed for a second time in the last few months after the Hayward, CA-based biotech announced that a mid-stage study of its lupus drug blisibimod failed to hit its primary endpoint. The stock ($ANTH) plunged 54%.

Anthera is having a very bad year, or two. Just a few months ago it furloughed close to half of its staff shortly after revealing that its lead drug had flunked a late-stage study for cardiovascular inflammation. At that point the developer turned its complete attention, and its remaining resources, to its Phase IIb blisibimod study. The lupus drug is now the only therapy Anthera has in the clinic.

Analysts had to drill down into the release to get the bad news about the primary endpoint. CEO Paul Truex focused initially on the primary achievement of the study: The identification of a subgroup of patients which are most likely to benefit from the drug and the dose Anthera now wants to take into Phase III.

"The extensive data in the target severe population from our Phase II clinical program supports the initiation of a much smaller yet differentiated Phase III registration plan with the selected dose of blisibimod in patients with severe systemic lupus erythematosus," noted Truex in a statement.  "We have prospectively demonstrated for the first time the possibility for a subcutaneously administered BAFF inhibitor to be used in the treatment of a severe lupus population." 

Anthera went public back in the spring of 2010, but nothing went according to plan there either. The company had to slash its price to half of its initial range, selling far more shares at a much lower price than had been forecast. The biotech had $67.4 million in cash at the end of last year, which was down from the $93.3 million it had in the previous quarter.

- read the press release
- here's the story from The Wall Street Journal