Chiron's Shares Fighting Rumor of Sepsis Drug Setback

The company denies that it pulled a research abstract for the drug, TFPI, from an upcoming conference.
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Despite

Chiron's

(CHIR) - Get Report

denials, its shares are weaker for the second straight trading day on persistent Wall Street chatter that the company's experimental sepsis drug is in trouble.

Shares in the Emeryville, Calif.-based biopharmaceutical firm dropped Monday $1.17, or 2.3% to $49.88. On Friday, Chiron shares lost just under 6%. Volume has been extremely heavy, with more than 11 million shares trading hands over the two days. The average trading volume for the stock is 2 million shares a day.

The selloff was precipitated by a rumor that Chiron has pulled a research abstract for its experimental sepsis drug, dubbed TFPI, from an upcoming medical conference. Chiron was expected to use the annual meeting of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, being held Jan. 26-30, to discuss results from TFPI's recently completed late-stage clinical trial.

But by yanking the abstract, Chiron was signaling that the TFPI test results were negative, or so the Wall Street rumor goes.

Chiron executives have heard the rumor and were quick with a denial.

"We didn't submit abstracts, so none were pulled," says Joyce Lonergan, Chiron's vice president of corporate development and investor relations, referring to the Critical Care meeting. Lonergan added that Chiron is still working on analyzing the TFPI trial data and that no decision has been made on where the results will be publicized, but that the company is still hopeful that it will happen by the end of the year.

Officials at the Society of Critical Care Medicine couldn't be reached because their offices were closed Monday for Veterans Day.

Wall Street biotech mavens are paying close attention to TFPI because it represents one of the few drug candidates in Chiron's near-term clinical pipeline. A delay in the drug, or confirmation that the drug doesn't work, will hurt.

"If

the rumor is true, Chiron's stock will take a big hit," says Robertson Stephens biotech analyst Mike King, who has a market perform rating on the company. "Other than TFPI and NAT, what does Chiron have?"

NAT refers to a super-sensitive blood test to screen donated blood for hepatitis and HIV. Chiron is currently awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval for the test.

Eli Lilly and Co.

(LLY) - Get Report

is working on approval of its own sepsis drug, Xigris. Last month FDA regulators granted Xigris conditional approval, dependent on Lilly and the FDA coming to terms on several outstanding issues.

The annual meeting of the Society of Critical Care Medicine has historically been the preferred forum for the discussion of experimental sepsis treatments. At least year's conference, Lilly's Xigris was on the bill. So in some respects, Wall Street is expecting Chiron to have a presence at this year's event. If the company is absent, it will be noticed.

Lonergan says it is Chiron's intention to discuss TFPI results at an important medical meeting such as the Society of Critical Care Medicine, but the first priority is to finish analyzing the test results. While the regular deadline for SCCM abstract submissions has passed, late-breaking abstracts are still being accepted. Lonergan, however, wouldn't say whether Chiron is making an effort to get a late abstract accepted for the meeting.