Centocor Inc., with positive clinical trial data for its heartdrug, and Myriad Genetics Inc., which identified a secondbreast cancer gene, recorded significant gains on WallStreet Thursday and touched off a surge in biotechnologystocks industry-wide.

Centocor's shares (NASDAQ:CNTO) soared for thesecond time in a week, jumping $7.06 to close at $32.12.Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ:MYGN) jumped $3.75 toend the day at $33.

The excitement surrounding Centocor, of Malvern, Pa.,and Myriad, of Salt Lake City, spread like wildfirethroughout the industry. The American Stock Exchange(AMEX) Biotechnology Index shot up 8.9 pointsThursday to 123.63, adding momentum to a sizzling year-long rally. The AMEX index, which ended 1994 at 81.68,has climbed 51 percent in 1995.

Centocor's stock increase followed release of an interimanalysis from a European Phase III trial showing ReoPro,an anti-platelet monoclonal antibody, stabilized severelyill unstable angina patients 24 hours prior to angioplastyand reduced their rates of death and heart attacks by morethan 50 percent. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 21, 1995, p.1.)

The study, called CAPTURE, was the second Phase IIItrial of ReoPro in a week to be halted because of apositive preliminary analysis. The first, a trial in the U.S.and Europe called EPILOG, was stopped Dec. 14, 1995,after the drug showed it could reduce death and heartattacks by more than 70 percent following angioplasty,even when the procedure is routine or elective. (SeeBioWorld Today, Dec. 18, 1995, p. 1.)

ReoPro was approved in the U.S. and Europe inDecember 1994 for use in angioplasty patients at highrisk of artery reclosure following coronary intervention.Those patients number only about 30 percent of the700,000 who undergo the procedure each year.

After release of the EPILOG data, Centocor's stockgained 68 percent, or $9.75, closing at $24 based onanticipation that ReoPro's label will be expanded for usein all angioplasty patients. The successful data in theCAPTURE trial indicates the drug's use may be furtherexpanded to reduce emergency interventions for unstableangina patients who do not respond to the standardtherapy of heparin, aspirin and nitroglycerin.

Of the 800,000 to 1 million people with unstable anginaeach year, as many as 200,000 are refractory and about 80percent of them are considered candidates for ReoPro,which would be used in combination with theconventional treatments to stabilize patients.

Together the EPILOG and CAPTURE trials havecatapulted shares of Centocor 125 percent in one week.

Myriad, a genomics company, jumped on news, whichappeared in Thursday's Nature, that its researchersidentified a second breast cancer gene, BRCA2. (SeeBioWorld Today Special News Bulletin, Dec. 21, 1995.)

Myriad, which discovered the BRCA1 breast cancer genein 1994, debuted in the public markets in October at $18and has risen 74 percent. The company expects to beginselling a genetic predisposition test for breast cancer bythe middle of 1996 based on BRCA1.

The two oncogenes are linked to hereditary breast cancer,which accounts for about 10 percent of all cases, and themutated genes may be implicated in most other sporadicbreast cancers. About 185,000 women are diagnosed withthe disease each year.

For Centocor, the two Phase III ReoPro studies uncorkedenthusiasm for a company that was hurt by slow first yearsales of the drug based on its expensive price ($1,350 pertreatment) and a previous study that revealed problemswith bleeding.

David Crossen, analyst for Montgomery Securities in SanFrancisco, said the EPILOG and CAPTURE trials haveeliminated both cost and bleeding as concerns. Based onthe two studies he boosted his estimates for 1999 sales by$135 million to $725 million.

Centocor's marketing partner, Eli Lilly and Co., ofIndianapolis, started selling ReoPro in February 1995 andthrough Sept. 30, 1995, sales totaled about $10 million.Some analysts had projected first year sales as high as$100 million.

"The stock was punished for the slow launch of ReoPro,"Crossen said. "A lot of people were saying this was aproduct that wouldn't be used."

However, the two recent trials, which were not scheduledto be complete until next year, revealed dramaticallybetter rates of efficacy than the previous studies alongwith showing that bleeding was not a major concern.

"No one predicted the magnitude of improvement," saidCrossen. He speculated ReoPro's FDA label likely willbe expanded in the second half of 1996. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.