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Endocyte stock doubles after key approval in Europe

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The stock price of Indiana-based Endocyte Inc. skyrocketed by as much as 130 percent Friday morning after the drug company got a thumbs up in Europe to market its first drug and received a new round of favorable clinical trial results.

The drug, vintafolide, received a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use of the European Medicines Agency to treat a small group of ovarian cancer patients who have already tried other treatments.

Assuming that opinion is followed by the European Commission, Endocyte and its partner Merck & Co. Inc. would begin selling the drug and its companion imaging agent later this year.

The drug, which will be sold by Merck, has received the brand name of Vynfinit while the imaging agent will have the brand Folcepri, and will be sold by Endocyte.

Also, West Lafayette-based Endocyte announced that vintafolide proved effective at treating non-small cell lung cancer in a Phase 2 trial. Patients receiving vintafolide and traditional chemotherapy agents had a 25-percent reduction in the risk of death or of their cancer worsening, compared with patients receiving only chemotherapy.

The study confirms that Endocyte is “a platform technology company, along the same lines as” ImmunoGen Inc. and Seattle Genetics Inc., wrote RBC Capital Markets analysts Adnan Butt, in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. He added that Endocyte could be a candidate for a merger or acquisition “with an attractive product, pipeline and technology.”

The dual announcements, both released before the markets opened Friday, ignited investors’ interest. They bid up Endocyte shares as high $33.70 apiece, compared with Thursday’s closing price of $14.64.

Endocyte’s technology was first developed at Purdue University by chemist Philip Low. Since some cancer tumors have an abundance of “receptors” that bind easily with the vitamin folate, Low figured a powerful chemotherapy drug could be combined with a folate molecule, so it would target only cancerous cells and not healthy cells.

That allows vintafolide to be more deadly to cancer, without serious side effects, than patients can tolerate with traditional chemotherapy agents.

“We’ve studied vintafolide in two of the toughest-to-treat cancers and seen positive results and we view this as a continuing validation of the drug and the platform,” CEO Ron Ellis said on a conference call Friday.

The company could be a candidate for a merger or acquisition “with an attractive product, pipeline and technology,” said Butt, the analyst, who didn’t mention any potential suitors by name. The study confirms that Endocyte is “a platform-technology company, along the same lines as” ImmunoGen Inc. and Seattle Genetics Inc. he said.

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