By Sayantani Ghosh and Ashutosh Pandey
Aug 1 Shares of Canada's Tekmira Pharmaceuticals
Corp , which hopes to produce the first
treatment for the deadly Ebola virus, have skyrocketed as the
worst-ever outbreak of the virus intensified in West Africa.
Though testing of the company's treatment TKM-Ebola on
humans was put on hold last month due to safety concerns,
investors scrambled to buy its stock, sending shares up 7.5
percent to $13.77 in Nasdaq trading Friday, and up more than 50
percent over the past fortnight.
"The recent outbreak in West Africa is as profound as any we
have seen in recent decades," said Euro Pacific Canada analyst
"We have solid pre-clinical evidence showing that TKM-Ebola
is effective at eradicating Ebola symptoms, giving us confidence
that its development activities could resume," he said.
The outbreak forced Sierra Leone to declare a state of
emergency and call in troops to quarantine victims on Thursday.
The country joined neighbor Liberia in imposing tough controls
as the death toll in West Africa exceeded 700.
Indeed, the outbreak is outpacing efforts to control it, but
could be stopped, World Health Organization Director-General
Margaret Chan said on Friday.
Ebola belongs to a family of viruses that can cause serious
hemorrhagic fevers. There have been dozens of deadly outbreaks
of the virus across West Africa, threatening people as well as
endangered gorilla populations.
The recent outbreak, which has killed 729 people in four
different countries since February, is the worst since the
disease was discovered in the mid-1970s.
Tekmira had previously published proof-of-concept data that
showed its treatment resulted in 100 percent protection from a
lethal dose of Zaire Ebola virus in infected primates.
The company started an early-stage clinical trial for the
treatment in January and was granted fast-track status from the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 5, pushing
shares to their highest ever a few days later.
The FDA's fast track is a process designed to facilitate and
expedite the development and review of drugs to allow important
new therapies to get to patients quickly.
The latest surge in Tekmira shares has come in the past 14
days, with shares soaring more than 52 percent over that period
on the Nasdaq, including Friday's gains.
Those gains have come even as the treatment was put on
clinical hold July 3, sending shares down more than 15 percent
Tekmira officials weren't immediately available for comment.
"What Wall Street does is that it sees an Ebola crisis and
it sees Tekmira with an Ebola medical countermeasure that has
shown a 100 percent effectiveness in animals," said Maxim Group
analyst Jason Kolbert.
"It says: 'Wow! This may be a really valuable product'."
Kolbert said he expected the hold to be lifted by year-end.
Analysts said the FDA would likely face pressure from global
health campaigners to consider fast-tracking possible
treatments, including Tekmira's.
A North Carolina physician petitioned the regulator on
Wednesday on the Change.org website to release the hold on
Tekmira's treatment. [chn.ge/1AHixDw
The petition has already gathered 12,500 signatures.
"Given that at least one patient has transferred the disease
from Liberia to Nigeria by air travel, the possibility of a
global pandemic becomes increasingly likely," said the
petitioner, who identified himself as Ahmed Tejan-Sie, MD.
Last month, the director of the influential Wellcome Trust
global charity said people at high risk of dying from the Ebola
outbreak in West Africa should be offered experimental medicines
to see if they work.
Tekmirawas incorporated in 2005, the result of a
reorganization of its parent, Inex Pharmaceuticals Corp, which
crashed when the FDA rejected its highly touted cancer drug.
Burnaby, British Columbia-based Tekmira has since
specialized in the field of gene silencing, otherwise known as
All four brokerages covering the company's Nasdaq-listed
stock have a "buy" or equivalent rating and an average price
target of $26.63, about twice its current price.
(Additional reporting by Sneha Banerjee in Bangalore; Editing
by Bernadette Baum)