Rigel shares slide after another drug flops in PhII asthma study

Shares of Rigel Pharmaceuticals ($RIGL) took a dive this morning, dropping 17% after the South San Francisco-based biotech announced that it is burying a program for allergic asthma after its drug R343 flunked a midstage study.

Two years ago Rigel was celebrating the fact that Pfizer ($PFE) had decided to jettison R343 as part of the Big Pharma's portfolio review process. Pfizer's participation had advanced the drug to a midstage point, giving Rigel its most advanced in-house project at the time. Today, though, any festive thoughts about R343 have likely been banished at Rigel.

"This was not the result we expected based on the collection of data we had previously seen with R343 in this therapeutic area," said Rigel CEO James Gower in a statement. "Fortunately, we have a robust portfolio of clinical and preclinical research programs to focus on that includes Fostamatinib, R333 for discoid lupus erythematosus and R348 for dry eye. We will be reviewing our portfolio and will discuss these plans in the near-term."

It's been a rough year for Rigel. Back in June, AstraZeneca ($AZN) scrapped their partnered Phase III program for their rheumatoid arthritis drug fostamatinib after the data failed to live up to expectations. Last summer, though, AstraZeneca signed a $100 million deal with Rigel to partner on R256, an inhalable JAK inhibitor under evaluation for treating tough cases of asthma.

Trying to open a new chapter for fostamatinib isn't going to win many fans among the analysts covering the company. "In September 2013, Rigel plans to announce salvage plans for Fos-D (fostamatinib) for indications other than rheumatoid arthritis," Leerink Swann analyst Marko Kozul wrote, according to a story in Reuters. Kozul, though, cut his forecast on Rigel's share price.

- here's the press release
- read the Reuters report