February 15, 2012 / 6:30 PM / 6 years ago

BioCryst hep C drug shows promise, shares jump

(Reuters) - BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc said its experimental hepatitis C drug showed promise in preclinical studies, sending its shares up as much as 16 percent to their highest in more than seven months.

Additional non-clinical experiments on the drug are ongoing or planned, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

BioCryst, which is also testing potential cancer, influenza and gout treatments in the late-stage, said the drug candidate, BCX5191, selectively showed antiviral activity against the hepatitis C enzyme.

“We expect this program to be ready to file for first-in-human studies during the fourth quarter of 2012,” Chief Medical Officer William Sheridan said.

About 130 million to 170 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus, and more than 350,000 people die from hepatitis C-related liver diseases each year, according to the World Health Organization website.

The market for hepatitis C treatments is expected to be worth about $15 billion by 2019, garnering significant investor interest, and most firms trying to develop a drug for the infection have seen stock prices skyrocketing over the past year.

Birmingham, Alabama-based BioCryst’s shares, which have gained nearly half their value since the beginning of this year, were trading up 11 percent at $4.09 on Wednesday afternoon on the Nasdaq. They earlier touched a high of $4.29.

More than 1.5 million shares had exchanged hands by 1317 ET -- about six times the stock’s ten-day average moving volume.

Reporting by Kavyanjali Kaushik in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier, Roshni Menon

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