It was a banner day for small-cap pharma company Endocyte (ECYT) , which more than doubled in value at the opening bell after reporting that its experimental drug, vintafolide, had slowed the progression of lung cancer in a clinical trial.
Shares closed at $14.64 on March 20, but gapped up to $33.29 with the opening bell on March 21, good for a gain of 127.4 percent. The stock briefly gained ground, peaking at $33.70 a share, its highest value since the stock’s IPO in 2011, before pulling back sharply. However, the retreat only took shares as low as $25.88 around 10:30 am EST, and by 11 am the stock was still trading at almost double its prior-day close.
The gains came on heavy volume, with nearly 10 million shares moving before 11 am EST. Average daily volume for Endocyte’s stock prior to March 21 was just over 700,000. What’s more, with just 36.18 million shares in its float, Endocyte saw almost one third of its total stock change hands in the first hour and a half of trading.
The news driving these gains, though, was firmly positive. In a phase 2b trial for vintafolide involving 199 patients suffering from lung cancer, Endocyte reported a 25-percent reduction in disease progression and death for those patients taking the drug.
"We are pleased with the results of this study, as the vintafolide/docetaxel combination showed meaningful activity in patients with recurrent NSCLC, meeting the primary endpoint of the trial," said Endocyte’s VP of medical affairs Binh Nguyen, M.D., Ph.D. "This is our second randomized study in a very challenging indication, where vintafolide has met the primary endpoint when used in patients selected with the companion imaging agent etarfolatide. These results provide further validation of our targeted approach to treatment using companion imaging and our SMDC technology. … We look forward to reviewing additional analysis of this study when the OS data has matured later this year to help inform potential further development of the vintafolide/docetaxel combination in NSCLC."
Vintafolide is an oncology drug that attempts to fight cancerous growth by attacking folate receptors. From the company’s website:
“Vintafolide (EC145) delivers a potent vinca alkaloid chemotherapy directly to cancer cells by targeting the folate receptor expressed on cancer cells, but not on most normal cells. Approximately 80–90% of ovarian and lung cancers express the receptor, as do many other types of cancer. Folate receptor status is determined by an etarfolatide (99mTc-EC20) scan.”
The drug received an orphan drug status for treating ovarian cancer in Europe in April of 2012 and is being developed as part of a partnership with Merck (MRK) .
As is often the case with biotech stocks that return positive clinical data, Endocyte quickly rendered most technical and fundamental analysis obsolete. Endocyte has produced revenue beginning in 2011 and rising steadily since then, but remains unprofitable.
A look at Endocyte’s stock chart reveals that it was trading up channel since the start of the year with its 50-day SMA acting as a support level. However, today’s gains shatter any pattern that one might try to apply to the stock. Clearly, the potential for huge profits that could come from eventual regulatory approval for vintafolide is driving prices higher regardless of what the chart looks like.
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