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Ligand Pharmaceuticals on Long Road Back

When asked by one analyst during a Nov. 18 conference call if the whole company might be sold, David Robinson, the chairman and CEO, said Ligand is "open to all strategic opportunities to enhance our shareholders value."

The best way to improve shareholder value is to replace the board, says Daniel S. Loeb, chief executive of Third Point in a letter to shareholders.

Third Point issued its challenge just before Ligand announced its own plan to seek alternatives. Loeb says he acted because the company ignored his previous request to add three Third Point nominees to the board to help devise a new strategy.

Meanwhile, Ligand's stock has held up well since it hit a 52-week low of $4.75 in April. It closed Wednesday at $10.40, but prices have bounced between about $4 and $24 during the past three years.

Ligand's revenue comes from a mixture of marketed products and experimental compounds for which it receives royalties and milestone payments through deals with companies including Pfizer (PFE), Eli Lilly (LLY), Wyeth (WYE) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Some of those deals have hit a wall either in the lab or at the Food and Drug Administration. In September, the FDA rejected an application from Pfizer for the osteoporosis treatment Oporia. Ligand would get milestone payments if the drug is approved, as well as additional royalties on worldwide sales. Pfizer said it will discuss its application with the agency and consider various possibilities.

Ligand's Robinson told investors on Nov. 18 that while he was disappointed with the FDA's decision, he expects Oporia to be "an important asset going forward."

Pfizer also submitted Oporia for FDA review as a treatment for vaginal atrophy. Pfizer declined to comment on the status of this application. Pfizer continues to work on a version of Oporia for breast cancer.

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