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Medivation CEO says cancer drug could be 'best in class'

[SAN FRANCESCO] Medivation Inc Chief Executive Officer David Hung predicted the biotechnology firm's experimental cancer treatment will be "best in class," speaking one day after the company confirmed it's in acquisition talks with multiple bidders.

While the drug's first trial focuses only on advanced breast cancer patients who have mutations in the BRCA gene, Mr Hung sought to persuade analysts and investors that preclinical data and results from competing trials show the treatment, called talazoparib, could potentially work in a far broader population.

Drugs including talazoparib that target a protein called PARP "will be a major class of therapeutics in oncology going forward," Mr Hung said Wednesday on a conference call. If the treatment works in patients regardless of mutation status, "then we're talking about a really, really big opportunity." Medivation has said that in a best-case scenario the drug would work across many types of tumors, with a "market opportunity" of more than US$30 billion in the US and Europe. A company spokesman declined to clarify whether the US$30 billion represented annual sales or total cumulative sales, and whether it applied to talazoparib alone or included other drugs in the class.

The San Francisco-based biotech firm said on Tuesday that it's entered into confidentiality agreements with French drugmaker Sanofi and other parties that have expressed interest in acquiring it. Sanofi had raised its offer for Medivation to US$58 a share, plus a contingent value right, tied to the success of talazoparib, valued at a maximum of US$3 a share. The drugmakers are mainly interested in Medivation's prostate cancer drug Xtandi, which generated about US$695 million in sales for the company last year.

Medivation said in Tuesday's statement that it rejected Sanofi's latest offer. It has repeatedly argued that the French drugmaker undervalues the company, in large part because it discounts the potential of talazoparib.

Talazoparib inhibits the PARP protein, which is involved in DNA repair. In theory, by disrupting cancer cells' ability to repair themselves, the drug can slow the uncontrolled growth and replication of cells that are the hallmark of cancer.

Medivation's final-stage breast cancer trial will have results by the first half of 2017, according to the company, and more studies are being run, including in small cell lung cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. Mr Hung said Medivation is considering shortening the length of the breast cancer study because the size of the responses seen in other trials suggest that the company could assess the drug's effectiveness sooner.

If approved, talazoparib will also face competition: AstraZeneca Plc already has reached the market with its own drug, Lynparza, and Tesaro Inc presented better-than-expected results from its experimental treatment last week. AbbVie Inc and Clovis Oncology Inc also are developing their own versions.

Tesaro surprised analysts because its trial showed that the drug appeared to help ovarian cancer patients regardless of whether they tested positive for a measure called homologous recombination deficiency, or HRD, in which the tumor cells' DNA- repair mechanisms are faulty. Analysts had presumed that PARP inhibitors would work only for HRD-positive patients, limiting the potential market for the drug class.

Mr Hung said Medivation's drug is superior even to Tesaro's. Talazoparib's ability to trap PARP is 50 times better than Tesaro's niraparib, and data show that PARP-trapping correlates well with tumor killing, he said.

If Sanofi and other suitors are persuaded by Hung's arguments, they may be willing to increase their bids. Many analysts now expect Medivation to sell for about US$70 a share or more.