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Shares in B.C.’s Aurinia jump more than 20 per cent on FDA approval to sell lupus drug

Shares in B.C.’s Aurinia jump more than 20 per cent on FDA approval to sell lupus drug

Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc.shares jumped in value Monday after the Victoria-based drug developer announced it had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell its drug for a severe form of lupus.

The stock opened at US$20.50 on the Nasdaq, up 38 per cent, after Aurinia said late Friday its drug Lupkynis, formerly known as voclosporin, had been approved for use in the United States in combination with immunosuppressive therapies to treat adults with lupus nephritis (LN), a variant of lupus that occurs when the immune system attacks the kidneys, often causing kidney failure and death. Until recently there was no FDA-approved treatment.

The shares eased back through the morning and were trading at US$18.06 midday, up 21.5 per cent. That gave Aurinia a market capitalization of about US$2.3-billion, making it one of Canada’s three most valuable publicly traded biotechnology companies.

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H.C. Wainwright analyst Ed Arce increased his price target on Aurinia stock to US$35 from US$28 on the news, while David Martin of Bloom Burton in Toronto moved to a US$23 target from US$21.

CEO Peter Greenleaf said on a call with investors early Monday the company was “locked and loaded” to start selling the drug and had already received prescriptions that morning. The company believes the market for Lupkynis is between 80,000 and 100,000 patients, but Mr. Greenleaf said the company needed a few months to determine a more precise estimate of its market size and revenue forecasts. The drug, taken orally in capsule form, is expected to generate an average net revenue to the company of US$65,000 per patient per year and could eventually reach US$1-billion in annual sales, chief commercial officer Max Colao said.

The approval is a rare win for the Canadian drug development sector. Few have received FDA approval for a drug of its potential, and fewer still have attempted to take the drug to market themselves, rather than selling out or partnering with a big pharmaceutical company to handle marketing and sales. While Aurinia has struck a deal with Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd, to commercialize voclosporin in Japan, Britain and seven European countries, Aurinia plans to sell the drug itself in the lucrative U.S. market, a rarity for a Canadian biotech company.

Aurinia’s 357-patient study in December, 2019, found those who took voclosporin were nearly twice as likely as those on a placebo to show improved kidney health, prompting it to file for an expedited review by the FDA. The company then spent the next year gearing up to get its drug in market within days of the FDA’s approval, raising nearly US$400-million from investors and receiving an initial US$50-million payment from Otsuka, with more to come as the drug advances to market in Otsuka’s territories. Aurinia also expanded its ranks to 300 people, hiring sales and support staff to educate doctors and advocacy groups, ensure patient access and work on reimbursement.

Lupus mainly affects women of childbearing age and of African, Latin American and Asian descent. Treatment has typically involved a mix of steroids and cancer drugs; side effects include loss of hair, vision and mobility, thinning of bone marrow, lethargy, nausea, anemia and depression. The drug’s high cost and could impact user numbers. Aurinia has launched a support program to help patients  navigate insurance and medication costs

Aurinia has competition. GlaxoSmithKline PLC’s Benlysta – an intravenously-administered treatment for lupus – got FDA approval last month for use against LN. Roche Holding AG is also developing a LN drug.

Aurinia’s approval follows a historic 2020 for Canada’s biotech sector, which set records for public and private funding, including COVID-19 treatment developer AbCellera Biologics Inc.’s initial public offering last month.

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Published at Mon, 25 Jan 2021 18:02:46 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos

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