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Arbutus (ABUS) Plunges on Disappointing HBV Pipeline Updates


Arbutus Biopharma Corporation ABUS announced updates on its hepatitis B virus (“HBV”) pipeline candidates.

The company’s most advanced pipeline candidate, ARB-1467, is an RNAi agent targeting HBV replication and antigen production. The candidate is currently being evaluated in combination with Gilead’s GILD Viread (tenofovir) and PEG-IFN in a 30-week phase II study in patients with HBV. Per the press release, half of the enrolled patients (3) did not meet predetermined response criteria for treatment with PEG-IFN at week 6. While two patients are yet to reach the 6-week treatment criteria, one patient showed reduction in HBsAg level, a measure of hepatitis B infection, after 14-weeks of treatment.

A second RNAi candidate, AB-729, is in preclinical stage and the company is expected to commence a clinical study in the second quarter of 2019.

The company’s capsid inhibitor, AB-506, is progressing well in a phase Ia/Ib study, evaluating it for treating chronic HBV infection. The candidate was safe and well tolerated after 10 days of treatment and is expected to enter HBV patient portion of the study this month.

Arbutus stated in the press release that it will delay the initiation of a clinical study for its newly discovered pre-clinical oral RNA-destabilizer, AB-452, due to ongoing analysis of its emerging non-clinical safety findings.

Shares of the Arbutus crashed 34% on Oct 9, presumably due to uncertainty about its pipeline. However, the company’s shares have increased 19% so far this year against the industry’s decline of 10.9%.

Arbutus Biopharma is focused on developing HBV therapeutic solutions. However, successful development of any of these candidates is years away, which is a concern. Any pipeline setback will hamper the company’s prospect.

The company has appointed Gaston Picchio as its chief development officer. Picchio previously worked at several high level management positions at Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson JNJ. He has three decades of experience in the field of human virology including 16 years dedicated to development of antiviral drugs for treating several diseases such as HIV and HCV.

The HBV segment is competitive with several large pharma companies showing interest in developing treatments. There are also multiple therapies approved for the disease. We remind investors that earlier this month Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Inc. ARWR signed a collaboration agreement with J&J for developing its RNAi therapeutic candidate, ARO-HBV, as a treatment for chronic hepatitis B virus infection.

Zacks Rank

Arbutus currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

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