Big Pharma giants are gathering in Chicago this week to wine and dine doctors at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, hoping docs will keep prescribing their multi-billion dollar heart drugs. Not many little biotechs can compete in this league, but Hayward, CA-based Anthera Pharmaceuticals is hoping to lay some groundwork for a new drug that could give Big Pharma another way to generate billions from treating heart attacks.
Anthera (NASDAQ: ANTH) is a small fish in this pond, having raised about $37 million in its initial public offering and burned through just about $93 million of investor cash in its five-year history. Anthera certainly fell off a number of radar screens when its stock dipped from its initial price of $7 to a low of $2.82 earlier this year. But the company has since bounced back to $6.12 at yesterday’s close, and is clearly eager to show some early-stage clinical trial of its lead drug at the American Heart Association meeting on Wednesday.
The idea at Anthera is to help prevent relapses in seriously ill heart patients by tamping down excess inflammation. The idea that inflammation causes plaque buildups in blood vessels to rupture, leading to heart attacks and strokes, hasn’t been solidly established in the scientific community, but evidence has been mounting for years to support the idea. Anthera, founded in 2004, is now in the midst of working to prove that a once-daily anti-inflammatory pill can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death when taken in combination with the whole kitchen sink of other drugs like cholesterol-lowering agents, blood pressure meds, and anti-clotting agents. If Anthera can gather that kind of proof, it may have a drug that could be taken by as many as 1.5 million patients in the U.S. who get rushed to the hospital each year with a heart condition and are hoping to avoid a relapse that could be debilitating or fatal. The drug could be worth “multi-billions,” Anthera says.
“This is a true paradigm shift in the treatment of cardiovascular disease,” CEO Paul Truex says.
Anthera has at least a couple years of work ahead before it will know if it can live up to that billing. But the company has clearly staked out an interesting strategy in pursuit of the next big market for cardiovascular disease, in a way that a little cash-burning biotech company might actually be able to handle. The company, founded in 2004, got its early backing from Vantage Point Venture Partners, Sofinnova Ventures, Caxton Advantage Life Sciences Fund, HBM BioCapital, and others.
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