Firm holds to buyout plan; MedImmune pursues Pa. company, despite drug trial suspension


MedImmune Inc. said yesterday that the sudden suspension of an AIDS drug trial by U.S. Bioscience Inc. won't scuttle its planned purchase of the Pennsylvania biotechnology company.

The trial, which was being conducted in three countries, was suspended after one patient died and other problems were reported.

"Given what we know right now, we intend to move forward with the deal," said Lori Weiman, a MedImmune spokeswoman.

Gaithersburg-based MedImmune agreed last month to purchase West Conshohocken, Pa.-based U.S. Bioscience for $477 million. That deal is expected to close by April.

MedImmune's chief product is a drug for a respiratory illness in young children. The company said the acquisition of U.S. Bioscience is aimed at boosting its efforts to enter the anti-cancer drug market.

"We are still more interested in the cancer side of the company," said Weiman.

Shares in MedImmune, which have been volatile lately, dropped $6.0625 yesterday to close at $110.5625. U.S. Bioscience shares closed at $15.125, down 75 cents.

U.S. Bioscience, which makes cancer and AIDS drugs, announced yesterday that it had suspended human trials of its experimental AIDS drug lodenosine after one patient died during clinical trials. The company said other "serious adverse events" in patients also led to the decision to halt testing.

The company said it made its decision after conferring with the Food and Drug Administration. It plans to monitor all 176 volunteer patients in the Phase II trial.

The drug was being used in combination with two other retro-viral drugs used to treat HIV-infected people, said U.S. Bioscience.

C. Boyd Clarke, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Bioscience, said "health and safety in our clinical trials is of the utmost importance" and that the trials would be suspended until a review of the scientific data compiled in the trials.

Weiman said MedImmune believes U.S. Bioscience acted prudently in halting the trials, and that the company was not too concerned with the drug's development because it did not play a chief role in the merger valuation of the company.

David Saks, a biotechnology analyst with Gruntal & Co., said the trial halt isn't a significant setback for either company.

"A rejection at this point, while disappointing, is certainly part of the gamble," said Saks, who called HIV drug development "high risk and high potential."

Saks also predicted that the problems with lodenosine wouldn't affect the merger plans.

U.S. Bioscience's chief revenue product is Ethyol, a drug used to protect cancer patients' kidneys from the toxic effects of an anti-cancer drug. U.S. Bioscience also markets one AIDS drug, NeuTrexin.

Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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