SAN FRANCISCO -- The J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference kicked off this morning and there's already news to report: A takeover proposal from Sequenom ( SQNM), corporate updates from Vertex Pharmaceuticals ( VRTX - Get Report), Human Genome Sciences ( HGSI) and Cubist Pharmaceuticals ( CBST), and new hepatitis C drug data from InterMune ( ITMN). Genetics test maker Sequenom made an unsolicited, all-stock $41 million offer to acquire Exact Sciences ( EXAS - Get Report), a struggling maker of a genetic test to detect colon cancer. The Sequenom proposal, announced Friday night, values Exact Sciences at $1.50 a share, a 51% premium to the stock's Friday close of 99 cents. Sequenom is developing a non-invasive genetic test that uses a blood sample from a pregnant woman to determine whether her child has Down syndrome. The company seeks to buy Exact Sciences to expand into non-invasive genetic screening for cancer. Exact Sciences owns technology that allows doctors to identify colon cancer from genetic markers found in a patient's stool. The company has struggled, however, due to disappointing sales of its colon cancer test, sold by diagnostics maker LabCorp ( LH). Shares of Exact Sciences have fallen from more than $3 a share one year ago. The company announced last spring that it was restructuring and seeking a strategic partner. There has been no comment fro Exact Science's management team yet on the Sequenom offer. Sequenom hopes to launch its Down syndrome screening test, known as SeQureDx, later this year. The proposal to acquire Exact Sciences comes just a couple of weeks before the company is expecting to announce -- in late January -- new and highly anticipated genetic testing results that will give more insight into the accuracy of the SeQureDx Down syndrome test.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals has often been criticized for profligate spending as it races to develop a new hepatitis C drug. But new financial guidance for 2009 suggests some fiscal restraint is coming. The company said Monday that it anticipates posting a net loss for 2009 of approximately $475 million to $510 million. The midpoint of that range, a $492 million net loss, is below the current consensus expectation of a net loss of $530 million, according to Thomson Reuters. Vertex also said that it intends to fund research-and-development spending in 2009 using cash obtained by out-licensing certain early-stage assets and through transactions that will provide "alternative, non-dilutive" forms of capital. On the hepatitis C front, Vertex said Monday that patient enrollment has been completed in the second of two, phase III studies of its experimental drug telaprevir. The first phase III study completed enrollment last October. Results from both studies are expected in the first half of 2010. Both of these trials enroll newly diagnosed patients with hepatitis C. A third phase III study of telaprevir, this one enrolling patients who have failed previous treatments for hepatitis C, will complete enrollment later this quarter, the company said. Vertex also said Monday that it will move into a multi-study, phase III program for its experimental cystic fibrosis drug VX-770 in the first half of this year. VX-770 is a pill designed to improve the function of a particular gene that is known to cause cystic fibrosis when defective.
Human Genome Sciences said it expects 2009 revenue to exceed $250 million, which includes $150 million in revenue from the sale of 20,000 doses of ABthrax, the company's anthrax vaccine, to the U.S. government. The company's 2009 revenue guidance topped analysts's expectations, which called for the company to generate $209 million this year. Cubist Pharmaceuticals reported preliminary 2008 revenue of $433.6 million, in line with analysts' consensus expectations of $434.5 million. Sales of the antibiotic Cubicin rose 45% in 2008 to $414.7 million. Last, InterMune reported new data on its experimental hepatitis C drug ITMN-191. While the drug was able to drop the amount of virus below detectable levels in some patients, the data do not necessarily compare all that well to competitors, including Vertex. A fuller account of the ITMN-191 data released this morning can be found here.