Activist hedge fund Sarissa moves in on Ariad Pharmaceuticals

Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:38pm EDT

Oct 29 (Reuters) - Sarissa Capital Management LP, a hedge fund run by investor Carl Icahn's former healthcare lieutenant, has taken a 6.22 percent stake in the wounded biotechnology company Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Ariad's shares have fallen more than 80 percent since Oct. 9, when it announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had placed a partial hold on patient enrollment in clinical trials of its cancer drug Iclusig due to safety concerns.

Two days later the FDA said an investigation into heart risks associated with Iclusig showed that at least 20 percent of patients experienced blood clots or a narrowing of the veins.

On Oct. 18, Ariad said it would discontinue a trial known as Epic that was testing Iclusig against Novartis AG's Gleevec in patients with previously untreated chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a blood cancer due to an increased risk of blood clots in the arteries.

The drug won approval in December to treat CML and Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia in patients who had failed to respond to at least one other therapy. Ariad had hoped to expand use of the drug to newly diagnosed patients.

The company is in discussions with the FDA about the product's future.

Ariad is Sarissa's third publicly disclosed investment since launching earlier this year following an investment in Vivus Inc and one in Astex Pharmaceuticals Inc, which was acquired earlier this month by Japan's Otsuka Holdings Co . Sarissa is run by former Icahn deputy Alexander Denner.

The firm joined First Manhattan in a successful proxy battle at Vivus that placed six nominees from First Manhattan and a new chief executive on the company's board, giving the dissidents a majority.

Iclusig, known generically as ponatinib, was granted accelerated approval by the FDA, a process that requires companies to conduct further studies to prove the drug is as effective as initially thought.

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