InterMune deal delivers $55M in fresh fuel for fibrosis drug

One of the pioneers in the fibrosis drug field is opting to sell off an aging commercial product to help finance its pipeline work and what it hopes will be a final push for its top prospect in the U.S. market.

InterMune ($ITMN) announced earlier this week that it sold Actimmune--an immune stimulator--to Vidara Therapeutics for $55 million and a two-year royalty stream. The money is being used to fuel the launch of pirfenidone (Esbriet) in Europe, a new treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The FDA, though, rejected the drug in 2010, forcing InterMune to mount a new late-stage study as the company remained intent on gaining regulatory approval in the U.S. Some analysts say the treatment has blockbuster potential.

Michael Gilman, the CEO of the recently acquired Stromedix, noted in a column for FierceBiotech that InterMune has played a key role in blazing the trail for a bevy of biotechs now focused on fibrosis. "Importantly," he wrote, "they've taught us that approval is possible based on showing robust effects on pulmonary function; you don't need to prove an effect on patient survival."

But the biotech has had its share of trials and tribulations, most notably the legal troubles experienced by former InterMune CEO Scott Harkonen, who last year was sentenced to 6 months of home confinement and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine for his part in disseminating a misleading press release in 2002. He also received three years' probation. He is appealing the sentence.

- here's the press release
- get the story from the San Francisco Business Times
- read the AP report