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Gout Drug Developer BioCryst Rises on Study


The company is looking for a partner to license its experimental treatment for a painful form of arthritis that attacks men over 40.

As Americans' waistlines continue to expand, the list of related health conditions gets longer. Add gout to the list, a chronic inflammatory arthritis that can be quite painful.

Gout drug developer BioCryst Pharmaceuticals' (BCRX) stock is rising this morning after the company said its drug was effective and well tolerated in a mid-stage study of almost 300 patients. After a double-digit jump pre-market, the shares traded 6% higher to $3.10 each Tuesday morning. The stock is down 40% on the year.

The next big step for BioCryst: Find a partner to lead development of the drug, BCX4208. The company wants to license its treatment to another company sometime next year as it prepares to enter the last leg of human studies usually needed for US approval, CEO Jon Stonehouse says.

Stonehouse, a former executive at Germany's Merck KGaA, says he thinks he has an attractive product to offer a development partner. He says he has a drug with a market potential of at least $500 million for a patient population that is growing. There are more than 8 million Americans in the US with gout, a number that's expected to rise to 9.6 million by 2015, he says. Gout mostly strikes men over the age of 40.

"Gout is a disease getting a lot more attention," he says.

BioCryst is in a race with Ardea Biosciences (RDEA) to bring a better gout medicine to market. Both companies say there's a great need for a better drug as decades passed without any improved treatments. Japan's Takeda became the first company in 40 years to bring a new gout drug to the US when it won approval for Uloric two years ago. Ardea is a little farther ahead of BioCryst, having met with the Food and Drug Administration on design of its final stage of clinical trials for its experimental drug. Ardea shares rose 1% Tuesday morning to $19.19 and have lost a quarter of their value this year.

One key to success for bringing a new gout drug to the US market, according to Stonehouse, is to show that the treatment doesn't inflame other conditions. For instance, people with gout often have hypertension or kidney stones. Stonehouse says his drug is well tolerated for people with other maladies.

Gout is caused by a high level of uric acid in the blood. In BioCryst's study, it compared its drug added to an already-approved medicine allopurinol. BCX4208 and allopurinol was far more effective than allopurinol alone in reducing uric acid, the company says. The drug was also safe and well tolerated by the patients, the company adds. The trial included patients with kidney stones, impaired kidney function, and other conditions.

Both BioCryst and Ardea say there are sizable opportunities outside the US as well, most notably Europe and Japan.

Twitter: @brettchase

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