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Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. (LGND - Snapshot Report) has earned a milestone payment of $1 million from Merck & Co. Inc.’s (MRK - Analyst Report) on the approval of Merck’s Noxafil injection in the U.S. The new formulation of Noxafil, which uses Ligand Pharma’s Captisol technology, is approved for the prevention of invasive aspergillus and candida infections in patients (age ≥ 18 years) at high risk of developing these infections due to severely low level of immunity – this includes hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) or patients with hematologic malignancies with low blood cell count due to chemotherapy.

We note that Noxafil is already available as delayed-release tablets and oral suspension for patients aged 13 years or more.

The U.S. launch of the new formulation of Noxafil is slated for mid-April this year. The formulation is currently under the review of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) with a feedback expected this year.

Meanwhile, Ligand Pharma is working towards strengthening its pipeline and focusing on its multiple partnered programs.

Last month, Ligand Pharma and partner Pfizer Inc.’s (PFE - Analyst Report) Duavee, a combination therapy for the treatment of moderate-to-severe vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause and the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis in women, was launched in the U.S.

With the launch of Duavee and several pending approvals, we expect 2014 to be a catalyst rich year for Ligand Pharma. We expect investor focus to remain on pipeline updates from the company.

Ligand Pharma carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). A better-ranked stock in the biotech sector is Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ALXN - Analyst Report) carrying a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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