Positive primate study for Parkinson's inspires a rally for Minerva

Animal studies typically don't do much for a biotech's stock price. Findings can be hard to replicate, animal models often don't translate well to human studies and hopeful signs seen at the preclinical stage can vanish in an instant--particularly in tough fields like neurodegeneration.

That wasn't the case for Minerva Neurosciences ($NERV), though. Its share price shot up 60% this morning on the news that an animal study executed in a European primate research program produced some early proof-of-concept evidence backing up their new treatment for Parkinson's disease.

Using marmosets in the EU-sponsored Primomed project, investigators tested an analog--or lookalike--of MIN-301, Minerva's experimental neuregulin-1 compound, which is designed to protect dopaminergic neurons, for a period of 8 weeks. They first injected the marmosets with MPTP neurotoxin to induce symptoms of Parkinson's and then assessed the drug's impact on symptoms of the disease. A control group received a saline solution.

According to Minerva, they tracked "greater improvements in Parkinsonian clinical score, AIMS and locomotor activity (Bungalow test) compared to vehicle" in the drug arm. "The strongest improvements in the analog-treated population were obtained during periods of slower disease progression."

Rémy Luthringer

"We believe that MIN-301 and its analog are functionally identical and that this data provides further support for advancing MIN-301 into clinical trials for the treatment of Parkinson's disease in humans," stated Dr. Rémy Luthringer, president and CEO of Minerva. "We believe MIN-301 and other peptides from our neuregulin platform may represent the next generation of therapies with neuroprotective activities in Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative disorders."

Minerva has just wrapped a rocky year. The company went public back in the summer of 2014, accepting $6 a share; half of the high mark on its initial range of $10 to $12 a share. The company had earlier executed a move from New Jersey to Waltham, MA, moving into one of the world's busiest biotech hubs. And it hired Rogerio Vivaldi, the former VP for rare diseases at Genzyme, to run the company. Then, just weeks ago, Vivaldi was out, replaced by president and CSO Luthringer.

This morning, though, the primate study is inspiring investors to bid up shares.

- here's the release