Investor enthusiasm about potential Covid-19 treatment is sparking a spectacular run-up in the stock of a small British biotech company.
Shares of Synairgen soared more than 450% in London on Monday after the company reported positive early results from a Phase 2 trial of a potential Covid-19 drug. The company said the trial, which involved 101 hospital patients in the United Kingdom, showed the treatment greatly reduced the number of patients needing intensive care and accelerated recovery.
Synairgen’s shares have skyrocketed nearly 2,800% year-to-date, a sign of how eager investors are for treatments or a vaccine to combat the coronavirus pandemic and help get the economy back on track.
An inhaled formula of the protein interferon beta reduced the odds of a patient developing severe disease by 79%, and those who received the treatment were two or three times as likely to recover. Interferon beta is a multiple sclerosis treatment that has been approved for use by injection in a number of other trials.
Synairgen CEO Richard Marsden described the results as a “major breakthrough.” He said the biotech company would look for approval to bring the treatment to market after further trials.
“Our efforts are now focused on working with the regulators and other key groups to progress this potential Covid-19 treatment as rapidly as possible,” Marsden said in a statement on Monday.
A spokesperson for the UK medicines regulator said that the results were only preliminary, but that it has sped up processes for approving potential coronavirus treatments. The UK Department of Health said further testing and peer review would be needed.
“It would be good to see the full results once presented and peer-reviewed to make sure they are robust and the trial conduct was rigorous,” said Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow. “Such work would require a larger trial but, even so, these results are very exciting.”
Synairgen is obliged by stock market rules to report the preliminary results of the trial. In recent months, markets have rallied on hopes that experimental drugs can help coronavirus patients rapidly recover. Investors have been piling into stocks like Gilead Sciences (GILD), Moderna (MRNA) and Novavax (NVAX), but analysts have warned that many trials remain in early stages and drugs will need additional vetting.
“It is sad that stock market rules seem to militate against proper scientific release of at least a pre-print of a scientific paper,” said Stephen Evans, professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “There are reasons to believe it could well be an effective treatment, but these results, while encouraging, should not be taken to mean that the treatment is so dramatic that everyone should be given it.”
Synairgen is a drug discovery and development company founded by three University of Southampton professors. It focuses primarily on severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It has a market value of about £55 million ($69 million).