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Isis Pharma, AstraZeneca Ink Deal

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Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. (ISIS) and AstraZeneca (AZN) recently announced that they have entered into an agreement to discover and develop five new generation antisense oncology drugs, including ISIS-STAT3Rx.

ISIS-STAT3Rx is being developed for advanced lymphomas patients. In October 2012, Isis Pharma had reported preliminary results from a dose escalation phase I study of ISIS-STAT3Rx. The candidate demonstrated encouraging efficacy in treatment-refractory advanced cancer patient and a promising safety profile. Currently, a phase II trial is ongoing in patients with advanced lymphomas.

As per the terms of the agreement, Isis Pharma will receive upfront and near-term payments of $31 million ($25 million on the signing of the agreement and $6 million in the second quarter of 2013) from AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca will also undertake all the development and commercialization responsibilities of ISIS-STAT3Rx (apart from the ongoing trial) and has an option to license other products.

AstraZeneca is also obligated to pay Isis Pharma milestone payments and royalties on the sale of commercialized products.

Our Take

We are positive on this agreement which provides Isis Pharma with funds in the form of upfront, milestone and other payments. We believe that antisense technology (the main area of focus at Isis Pharma) represents an exciting and potentially revolutionary platform for developing therapeutic candidates to treat a wide margin of diseases.

The company has partnership agreements with leading pharmaceuticals companies like Biogen (BIIB), Sanofi (SNY), Eli Lilly (LLY) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) among others. We note that Sanofi currently holds a Zacks #2 Rank (Buy) in the short run.

Isis Pharma has a major regulatory event coming up next month when the Food and Drug Administration’s (:FDA) is expected to respond on the company’s marketing application for lead pipeline candidate, Kynamro (mipomersen). We expect investor focus to remain on the FDA’s decision.

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