Aca­dia shares skid as Nu­plazid clears mid-stage hur­dle for Alzheimer’s psy­chosis, but skep­tics pounce

Steve Davis, Aca­dia

Shares of San Diego-based Aca­dia Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $ACAD shot up this morn­ing af­ter the com­pa­ny scored a suc­cess in a mid-stage study of its 5-HT2A -tar­get­ing drug Nu­plazid (pi­ma­vanserin) in Alzheimer’s dis­ease psy­chosis. But the biotech al­so had to face off against some ex­pert opin­ion that was not in the least bit im­pressed by the re­sults, es­pe­cial­ly fac­tor­ing in a failed sec­ondary end­point that forced shares to slide back in the back­lash.

Aca­dia’s drug — al­ready ap­proved for Parkin­son’s dis­ease psy­chosis — hit the pri­ma­ry end­point in the mid-stage test. Us­ing the NPI-NH Psy­chosis score, in­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked a 3.76 point im­prove­ment in psy­chosis at week 6 com­pared to a 1.93 point im­prove­ment for place­bo, a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant re­sponse. There were 181 pa­tients en­rolled in the study.

While much of the field is fo­cused on ei­ther amy­loid be­ta or tau, two tox­ic pro­teins that may trig­ger the Alzheimer’s, Aca­dia is fo­cused on treat­ing symp­toms of the dis­ease. Al­ready pegged as a like­ly block­buster, a new ap­proval for Alzheimer’s could sig­nif­i­cant­ly ex­pand this drug’s mar­ket reach, though the biotech has some ways to go be­fore it can make a start.

One big prob­lem for Aca­dia: Their drug failed to hit an im­por­tant mile­stone on the psy­chosis score at week 12. In their 8-K, filed to­day, the com­pa­ny con­cedes the fail­ure, not­ing: “On the sec­ondary end­point of mean change in NPI-NH Psy­chosis score at week 12, pi­ma­vanserin main­tained the im­prove­ment on psy­chosis ob­served at the week six pri­ma­ry end­point, but did not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sep­a­rate from place­bo.”

Al­fre­do Fontani­ni, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, was not im­pressed, tweet­ing that “this is not a sig­nal find­ing tri­al, we know Pi­ma af­fects hal­lu­ci­na­tions, point is can it sus­tain it at 12 weeks in ADP? No, er­go fail.”

Paul Mat­teis at Leerink al­so raised some thorny ques­tions about the drug’s fu­ture. He wrote:

(T)his wasn’t a free call op­tion in our view, but in any case we ex­pect the shares to trade mean­ing­ful­ly high­er to­day on the news as the ADP mar­ket and the AD ag­i­ta­tion mar­kets are very large. Nonethe­less, look­ing ahead, we note that the ben­e­fit in this study is small­er than that seen in PDP, and it is un­clear (1) whether or not ACAD can use the NPI psy­chosis score as a Ph 3 end­point (should it de­cide to ad­vance the pro­gram), (2) whether this re­sult, which was gen­er­at­ed at a set of nurs­ing homes af­fil­i­at­ed with the King’s Col­lege of Lon­don, is replic­a­ble across a larg­er num­ber of clin­i­cal cen­ters, and (3) what kind of safe­ty data­base the FDA will re­quire (we’d ex­pect it to be large, giv­en the agency’s cur­rent ap­proach to la­bel­ing risks) to ap­prove an an­ti-psy­chot­ic in Alzheimer’s.

Those ques­tions be­gan to in­flu­ence in­vestors’ at­ti­tudes ear­ly to­day. Aca­dia’s stock, which ini­tial­ly spiked 50%, was up on­ly 13% af­ter the mar­ket opened.

Nu­plazid won FDA ap­proval last spring, but on­ly af­ter reg­u­la­tors ex­pressed their safe­ty con­cerns, not­ing a dis­tinct in­crease in the num­ber of deaths as well as the rate of ad­verse events among the pa­tients tak­ing the drug com­pared to the con­trol arm of the study — even if there was no ob­vi­ous clue what was trig­ger­ing those events.

“Alzheimer’s dis­ease pa­tients suf­fer from a num­ber of de­bil­i­tat­ing symp­toms, of which psy­chosis car­ries a poor prog­no­sis and is as­so­ci­at­ed with ear­li­er place­ment in­to nurs­ing homes,” said Steve Davis, Aca­dia’s Pres­i­dent and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer. “Da­ta from the -019 Study pro­vide sol­id ev­i­dence that pi­ma­vanserin can im­prove psy­chosis in an­oth­er ma­jor neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der and pro­vide strate­gic mo­men­tum for the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of pi­ma­vanserin to ad­dress the needs of AD Psy­chosis pa­tients.”

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