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TheStreet Open House

Keryx CEO: Selling Company 'Top Priority'

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Keryx Pharmaceuticals (KERX) will be put up for sale if the company's experimental colon cancer drug succeeds in a late-stage study early next year, the company's CEO said Wednesday.

"Given the market opportunity in colon cancer, it would be very nice to sell the company," Keryx CEO Ron Bentsur told investors at the Stifel Nicolaus Healthcare Conference.

Bentsur added that Keryx would consider licensing its colon cancer drug, known as perifosine, or perhaps even sell the drug on its own. Still, his "top priority" would be to find a large pharmaceutical company to acquire the company outright.

A phase III study of perifosine in colon cancer is nearing completion, with a survival analysis expected early in the first quarter of 2012. Keryx had initially anticipated having top-line results from the perifosine colon cancer study ready in the fourth quarter of this year, but the study's "event rate" -- i.e. the rate at which patients are dying -- is a bit slower than Keryx has initially forecast, Bentsur said.

Does this mean that perifosine is working and that the study will be a success?

"It's hard to draw conclusions" from extending the perifosine data timelines out a bit," he warned. Bentsur obviously doesn't want to fall into the nasty circle of hell that has enveloped fellow biotech chief executives who dared to predict victory in drug trials that took longer to report results than initially expected.

Perifosine is an old drug that's been around the block more than once, which should give investors some pause. But Keryx also has solid perifosine data from a phase II study demonstrating that the drug can prolong survival in advanced colon cancer patients.

This phase II study was small, enrolling only 38 patients, which is why a phase III study will tell the tale of perifosine (and also why the study's outcome still carries significant risk.)

The patients enrolling in the phase III study all have advanced colon cancer that is no longer responding to currently approved drugs. Even as a "salvage" or last-line therapy, perifosine's commercial opportunity is significant because the drug, if approved, will have data demonstrating a survival benefit.

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