Agios Pharma CEO Jackie Fouse Looks Ahead After Lackluster Start
(Bloomberg) -- Seventeen months into her stint at the top of Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc., Jackie Fouse knows things could have gone better for investors.
Shares of the drug developer have languished since Fouse took the helm in February 2019, even as the industry climbed to all-time highs, in part due to the company’s financing and competitive concerns. Now she’s turning her focus to longer-term growth and advancing non-cancer therapies in a bid to win back investors’ trust.
“If somebody was going to measure my performance, at least only on the basis of the stock price, I have not done a very good job for the last year and a half,” Fouse joked in a telephone interview. “We’ve got to work very hard to show that our drug is differentiated from the competition,” she said in reference to mitapivat, an experimental therapy for disorders like sickle cell anemia that analysts say could one day top $1 billion in sales.
One of investors’ biggest complaints has been how quickly Agios burns through cash. The company has spent more than $1 billion on research and development since 2017 compared to revenue of about $255 million over that stretch, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
“I don’t think the criticism around the cash burn has completely gone away,” Fouse said. “We’ve been chipping away at that.”
Agios has two products on the market -- one wholly owned and one partnered with Bristol Myers Squibb Co.’s Celgene -- though Wall Street has been focused on mitapivat. The experimental medicine “may end up being a multi-billion dollar drug,” according to Fouse. However, efforts in sickle cell face competition from Global Blood Therapeutics Inc.’s Oxbryta and experimental therapies from Bluebird Bio Inc. and partners Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Crispr Therapeutics AG.
“While Agios aims to initiate pivotal trials in thalassemia and sickle cell anemia in 2021, mitapivat’s safety profile in SCA could become a critical factor in a future competition with Oxbryta, which has demonstrated compelling safety data,” Oppenheimer analyst Mark Breidenbach wrote in a June 14 note.
For Wall Street analysts, Agios’s ability to nab Fouse was a steal. Amid speculation she would take the top job at Gilead Sciences Inc. -- since filled by Daniel O’Day -- Fouse said the allure of a smaller company was attractive. She wouldn’t say whether Gilead had approached her to become CEO, instead saying she was “approached about a lot of jobs” after she left Celgene in 2017.
Shares of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agios are down 1% since Fouse took over in February of last year. That compares to a 27% rally for the closely watched Nasdaq Biotechnology Index and places it 127th among the index’s 206 companies.
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The next catalyst for Agios shares is likely to come later this year with additional results from the early-stage trial of mitapivat in sickle cell. Data for a pair of studies in pyruvate kinase deficiency are also due between year-end and the middle of 2021.
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