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Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR - Analyst Report) recently announced encouraging top-line results from its human abuse liability (HAL) study on NKTR-181. NKTR-181 is being developed for the treatment of moderate-to-severe chronic pain. The news impacted the share price of Nektar positively.

Nektar enrolled 42 recreational drug abusers for the randomized, double-blind, placebo- and active-controlled study. The study measured the “drug-liking” scores on a bi-polar visual analogue scale (VAS) under each treatment group of NKTR-181 (100 mg, 200 mg and 400 mg), placebo and the widely abused painkiller, oxycodone (40 mg). Nektar mentioned in its conference call that the study was designed as per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s recent draft guidance. The company stated that the drug is designed to enter the patient’s bloodstream at a slow pace thereby reducing euphoric feelings that can lead to abuse.

Results from the study showed that "drug liking" and "feeling high" scores were similar in patients treated with NKTR-181 when compared to patients under placebo. The study further revealed that patients under NKTR-181 showed statistically significant lower "drug liking" scores along with reduced "feeling high" scores in comparison to patients treated with oxycodone. The company expects to complete the study soon with results expected this summer.

Data from the study further showed that the sleepiness score was less in all doses of NKTR-181 compared to that of oxycodone.

Nektar is currently evaluating NKTR-181 in a phase II study for the treatment of chronic pain. The company enrolled around 200 opioid naïve patients, suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. The patients will be randomized to receive either NKTR-181 or placebo.

We remind investors that NKTR-181 currently enjoys fast track designation in the US for the treatment of moderate-to-severe chronic pain. Nektar mentioned in its conference call that there are more than 100 million patients suffering from chronic pain in the US. The management at Nektar believes that the candidate can be a leading product in the opioid market for chronic pain which is worth $12 billion. However, we remind investors that the market for chronic pain currently has big companies like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ - Analyst Report) and Pfizer Inc. (PFE - Analyst Report).

Nektar, a biopharmaceutical company, presently carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). Other biopharma stocks such as Jazz Pharmaceuticals Public Limited Company (JAZZ - Analyst Report) currently look attractive with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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