PharmaMar soars 21% after journal Science confirms drug's efficacy against COVID

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MADRID (Reuters) - Shares in Spanish pharmaceutical company PharmaMar spiked over 20% on Tuesday after it cited a paper published by peer-reviewed journal Science that confirmed “potent preclinical efficacy” of its drug Aplidin against COVID-19.

A study carried out in vitro and in vivo by a team of scientists in New York, San Francisco and Paris showed Aplidin (plitidepsin) leads to a reduction of viral replication, resulting in a 99% reduction of viral loads in the lungs of animals, the Science paper reported, according to a PharmaMar statement.

The drug, approved in Australia for the treatment of multiple myeloma, blocks a protein associated with the COVID-19 virus. Toxicity of the drug is well known and the doses used in COVID-19 trials are well tolerated in humans, the company said.

“When we infected animals and we treated them with the adequate dose of plitidepsin, an extraordinary reduction of the viral load is produced,” Pablo Aviles, head of nonclinical toxicology and pharmacology at PharmaMar, told Reuters TV.

“It’s like if the virus in the infected cell needed to use a photocopy machine to copy itself and create new particles, and plitidepsin blocks the photocopying machine” so the virus cannot multiply, he added.

PharmaMar said it was in talks with various regulatory agencies - the most advanced ones being with the Spanish and British regulators - to start Phase III trials. They are deciding how many patients should be included in the trial.

“At first we are not targeting ICU patients, there will be hospitalized patients, but doctors are collaborating with us to identify the different phases a sick person goes through, and determine which would be ideal to focus on to produce the best results we can get from plitidepsin,” he said.

PharmaMar shares were up 21% at 106 euros in late trading on Tuesday, heading for their strongest close since early November and leading the Spanish Ibex-35 stock index, after retreating slightly from the day’s peak of 110 euros.

Reporting by Inti Landauro, Silvio Castellanos and Emma Pinedo; editing by Andrei Khalip and Lisa Shumaker