The stock of Chimerix hit an all-time high Friday as the Durham drugmaker’s experimental drug made national news this week and the company said it would release its antiviral medication to a critically ill first-grader.
The Chimerix medication is still at least 2-1/2 years away from approval for public use, but that didn’t stop investors from driving up the company’s shares by 45 percent this week, to $27.14, on the drug’s potential.
The small drug developer also said Friday that it has signed a multiyear lease to double its lab space in Durham to develop new antiviral drugs. The lease for the 7,925-square-foot lab had been under negotiation before the company became the subject of international news coverage this week, when the family of 7-year-old Josh Hardy publicly pleaded for the drug and said their son would die without it.
Two physicians at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where Josh has been hospitalized in Tennessee since late December, further buoyed the reputation of the experimental drug Thursday. In a press conference they expressed confidence the medication would succeed in treating the ailing boy, a four-time cancer survivor who is experiencing kidney failure and is on dialysis after a bone marrow transplant.
Larry Kun, clinical director at St. Jude, said Josh’s medical team requested the use of the Chimerix drug, brincidofovir, to treat the boy’s infection of a potentially lethal adenovirus, which causes organ failure in patients with compromised immune systems.
“We believe (it) will be effective against the virus and spare his kidneys, which have suffered from his cancer and available medicines,” Kun said in a press conference.
The Hardy family had become a social media sensation after enlisting the public to urge Chimerix to let their son try the company’s drug. Chimerix refused at first, saying it would be improper to offer the drug selectively, but then announced that Josh would be the first patient in a drug trial to test its benefits in fighting adenovirus infections.
The company’s refusals, and increasing media attention, prompted death threats to CEO Kenneth Moch, who had to be placed under armed escort as the crisis unfolded.
Since Chimerix relented on Wednesday, at least four other physicians have come forward saying they have infected patients who could be candidates to try brincidofovir as part of the drug test, which will be limited to 20 people in its early phase.
“Before Josh Hardy received his first dose on Wednesday evening, we already had four inquiries for additional participants in the first phase of this trial,” Moch said Friday.
Brincidofovir wipes out potent viruses without the toxic side effects of cidofovir, the primary medication in use today.
Moch said the medical profession’s interest in the drug trial validates the company’s earlier decision not to release it selectively to Josh under the doctrine of “compassionate use” when others also need the treatment.
“It speaks to what we’ve been saying all along,” Moch said. “There was and is a significant need. If we had given Josh Hardy compassionate use, how would we say no to these other patients?”
Chimerix, founded in 2002, has 54 employees and no products on the market. The company hopes to get brincidofovir approved by 2016 and is also developing other antivirals.
It became publicly traded 11 months ago, raising $118 million on the strength of brincidofovir, which the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is backing as a potential weapon against bioterrorism.