InterMune Surges After Fatal Lung Disease Drug Slows Damage

May 19, 2014 4:21 pm ET

(Updates with closing shares in second paragraph.)

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- InterMune Inc. rose to the highest in three years on investor optimism that results from a new study of its lung disease drug pirfenidone will lead to U.S. regulatory approval.

InterMune gained 13 percent to $38.92, the highest price since May 2011. Pirfenidone will be submitted for approval in the next few weeks and may be on the market in the first quarter of 2015, the Brisbane, California-based company said in a regulatory filing. Shares have risen 164 percent this year.

The drug, also known as Esbriet, is approved in Europe to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung-scarring disease without a cure whose cause is unknown. The medicine was rejected in 2010 by U.S. regulators, who asked for a new trial on effectiveness. Pirfenidone and another drug, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH’s nintedanib, both showed progress in slowing the disease’s progression, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The data actually favors InterMune,” Ritu Baral, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity Corp., said in a telephone interview from San Diego. “It’s incredibly important. This is their lead product.”

The disease causes tissue deep in the lungs to become increasingly thick and stiff, or scarred, over time, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When that happens, it inhibits the ability of the lungs to move oxygen into the bloodstream, limiting the amount that gets to the brain and other organs. It’s a malady mostly found in middle-aged and older adults.

Separate Studies

Nintedanib and pirfenidone were studied separately and weren’t compared against each other. Data from the Boehringer trial has a “very convincing basis,” Susanne Stowasser, the Ingelheim, Germany-based company’s team leader of global medical affairs-respiratory, said in an interview. Judith von Gordon, another spokeswoman, said the closely held company will file for approval this year.

Jim Goff, a spokesman for InterMune, wasn’t available to comment on the drug study results.

--With assistance from Allison Connolly in London and Naomi Kresge in Berlin.