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Threshold Pharma shares rise on analyst upgrade

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Threshold Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose Wednesday after a Piper Jaffray analyst upgraded the stock as the company prepares to report more clinical trial data for its experimental cancer drug TH-302.

THE SPARK: Analyst Charles Duncan raised his rating to "Overweight" from "Neutral" and doubled his price target to $10 per share from $5. Threshold is getting ready to report clinical trial data for TH-302 as a treatment for soft tissue sarcoma, but Duncan said investors are overlooking earlier-stage clinical trials of the drug as a treatment for leukemia, multiple myeloma, and gastrointestinal tumors and kidney cancer.

THE BIG PICTURE: TH-302 is designed to become active in parts of the body with abnormally low oxygen levels. Threshold said those conditions exist in many types of solid tumors because of the irregular growth of the blood vessels that feed the tumors. Once the drug becomes active, it stops cancer cells from replicating their DNA and dividing. The company said the drug can also attack oxygenated regions of the tumor.

"We believe that near-term data will enhance conviction on the broad applicability of Threshold's hypoxia-activation platform for targeting a wide range of cancer indications with the potential to substantively add/extend efficacy over standard chemotherapy," said Duncan.

Duncan said he is particularly interested in the possibility that TH-302 could be combined with drugs that block the blood vessel growth in tumors.

The South San Francisco, Calif., company is conducting late-stage trials of TH-302 as a treatment for soft tissue sarcoma and pancreatic cancer and early-stage trials in other cancers. It is developing TH-302 through a partnership with German drugmaker Merck KGaA.

SHARE ACTION: Threshold shares rose 45 cents, or 10 percent, to $4.91 in afternoon trading. The stock has traded between $3.30 and $9.28 in the last year, but has lost about half its value since Sept. 17 when it reported disappointing trial results for TH-302 as a treatment for pancreatic cancer.