Inspire looking hard for partner
It needs help to sell drug overseas
Published: Fri, May. 08, 2009 02:00AM
Modified Thu, May. 07, 2009 10:01PM
The economic slump is hampering Inspire Pharmaceuticals' ability to attract a partner to help develop and eventually sell a promising experimental cystic fibrosis drug outside North America.
Consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry and the credit crisis have slowed negotiations with potential partners, Inspire CEO Christy Shaffer told analysts during a conference call Thursday morning.
"As you may have heard from other companies, the partnering dynamics have changed in the current economy," Shaffer said
Finding a partner is important because Inspire will need more money by next year to continue clinical testing on that drug and others. The Durham company had $55 million in cash and investments at the end of March, enough to fund operations until early 2010.
Without the financial backing of a partner, Inspire will be required to find other ways to raise money later this year, possibly by selling stock or borrowing, said Ian Sanderson, an analyst with Cowen and Co. That uncertainty will continue to hold down Inspire's stock, he added.
To cut costs and conserve cash, Inspire in March eliminated 20 jobs as it ended research on several early-stage experimental drugs. "For the rest of 2009, we will remain focused on managing our financial resources," Shaffer said.
The company now employs 227, about half in Durham.
The cystic fibrosis drug, known as denufosol, won't be widely available for at least two years, assuming it wins regulatory approval. Inspire would commercialize it in the United States, but wants a partner outside of North America.
The drug has performed well in clinical trials, helping people with cystic fibrosis breathe. Testing will continue for at least another year.
Inspire also reported Thursday that first-quarter revenue rose 47 percent to $14.3 million, boosted by increased sales of its drugs to treat pink eye and other eye diseases.
But as with other small drug-development companies in the Triangle, Inspire continues to lose money as it spends millions to test new medicines and find new uses for existing ones. The first-quarter loss of $19.4 million was an improvement from the loss of $25.9 million during the same period last year.
The results missed the average expectations of Wall Street analysts.
Inspire's shares fell 35 cents to close at $4.23 on Thursday. The stock is up 18 percent this year.