MorphoSys zeroes in on partner for blockbuster hopeful against arthritis

New clinical data have bolstered MorphoSys CEO Simon Moroney's blockbuster hopes for the biotech's experimental antibody against rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the chief executive is hunting for a partner to aid in developing the drug that he believes could generate north of $1 billion in annual sales, Reuters reported.

Not surprisingly, several pharma groups have taken an interest in the drug, called MOR103. The treatment has showed early signs of aiding RA patients and serving as an alternative to TNF alfa-targeting biologics and other meds for the disease. Abbott ($ABT), which has the top-selling TNF drug, Humira, hauled in $8 billion from sales of the product last year, Bloomberg reports. Yet not all patients respond to such meds, leaving the door open for new rivals with $1 billion-plus prospects.

In a Phase I/II study, MorphoSys saw some positive effects of the drug in RA patients with mild to moderate disease after only four weeks. The drug tamped down symptoms of the disease--which causes pain and inflammation in the joints--by 20% in 68% of patients, with no serious drug-related side effects. Also, the German biotech group has beat its rivals in providing clinical efficacy with an anti-GM-CSF antibody in RA patients, and Bloomberg reports that the data give the company an edge over AstraZeneca ($AZN) in advancing such drugs.

Moroney, whose company already has partnerships with Novartis ($NVS) and Roche ($RHHBY), believes that the new data from the 96-patient Phase Ib/IIa boost the chances of his company landing a new pharma alliance for the RA drug, Bloomberg reported. And the news noted that his company's stock shot up buy as much as 16% in trading in Frankfurt.

- here's the release
- see Bloomberg's article
- and Reuters' report