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Ahead of the Bell: FDA panel vote helps Ligand

The Associated Press

Ligand Pharmaceuticals shares climbed Thursday before markets opened after a panel of cancer specialists endorsed a potential blood cancer treatment from development partner, Onyx Pharmaceuticals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel voted 11-0, with one abstention, on Wednesday in favor of carfilzomib as a treatment for patients with advanced forms of multiple myeloma that haven't responded to other drugs. The FDA is expected to make a decision on the drug by July 27, and while it is not required to follow the panel's advice, it often does.

Ligand, based in La Jolla, Calif., could see several gains from a late July drug launch, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Irina Rivkind said in a Thursday morning research note.

Rivkind said Ligand supplies Captisol, the drug ingredient in carfilzomib, and the analyst expects that South San Francisco-based Onyx will need large quantities as it prepares for a commercial launch. Onyx will sell carfilzomib under the brand name Kyprolis, and Ligand will receive a royalty payment based on the sales.

Rivkind also noted that Onyx may study larger doses of carfilzomib in future trials, which would increase its need for Captisol

"Onyx plans on premium pricing of carfilzomib, which should translate to healthier royalties for Ligand," the analyst wrote.

Shares of Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose 4.7 percent, or 68 cents, to $15.23 Thursday in pre-market trading. The share price has already climbed 20 percent since closing at $12.11 on June 1.

Shares of Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. soared more than 37 percent, or $16.69, to $61.27 Thursday in pre-market trading