Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Cardiovascular? Apparently Not Biotech...

Last Updated Sep 24, 2009 7:19 PM EDT

Is there something about cardiovascular disease that makes biotech more suited to tackle it than pharma?

You wouldn't think so, given that cardio brings to mind huge, expensive clinical trials and huge, expensive primary care sales forces--but not necessarily huge, expensive drug prices. With the basics of cholesterol management met, some big pharmas are turning away from the field, but enterprising biotechs are stepping in.

At the recent BioPharm America conference in San Francisco, plenty of big pharma panelists tossed around comments like "no one wants to be in cardiovascular anymore." And indeed, Pfizer made waves last fall when it said it was moving away from cardiovascular as a core focus.

But at the same time, biotech activity in the space appears to be picking up.

There's HIV player Gilead Sciences, which nabbed a pair of hypertension drugs through its acquisition of Myogen a few years back. And more recently, Gilead bought CV Therapeutics for its chronic angina drug Ranexa (ranolazine extended-release tablets).

Then there's Amgen, which licensed a heart failure drug from Cytokinetics and has been checking into the possible cardiovascular benefits of erythropoietin-stimulating agent Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa).

There's also Anthera Pharmaceuticals, the only true biotech with an IPO on file right now. Anthera is prepping for Phase III with a drug designed to enhance the activity of statins in seriously sick patients. Isis Pharmaceuticals, Genzyme, Abbott and others also are working on similar statin add-ons for the niche severe hypercholesterolemia market.

And one of the other most frequently tossed around IPO contender names, Portola Pharmaceuticals, also works in cardiovascular. Portola has antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs in Phase II â€" both of which have drawn big pharma partnerships (proving that not all big pharmas are uninterested in the space).

It may not be cancer, but cardio's not dead yet.

Broken Heart photo by Flickr user CarbonNYC, CC

  • Trista Morrison

    Trista Morrison is a staff writer at BioWorld Today, a daily newspaper that