By Manojna Maddipatla
(Reuters) – Allergan Plc said on Wednesday its experimental add-on treatment for depression failed three late-stage studies, casting doubts over its drugs pipeline and sending the Botox-maker’s shares down nearly 4 percent after the bell.
The failure comes as the company faces increasing pressure from activist shareholders such as billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper, who has urged the drugmaker to consider selling itself.
Allergan’s shares have been lagging those of its industry peers on account of abandoned plans to sell some businesses, a disappointing 2019 revenue forecast and rising competition for several important drugs.
“We expect greater focus on strategic actions with activist push likely to continue to heighten with the May 1 shareholder meeting approaching shortly,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Randall Stanicky said in a note.
Stanicky said the data was the most anticipated release of the year and likely means that Allergan will lose what had been expected to be a $1 billion to $2 billion peak sales opportunity.
Some analysts, however, were not surprised, pointing out that investors had low expectations from the trial.
Allergan said the trials compared rapastinel and placebo, both in combination with antidepressant therapy (ADT) in patients with major depressive disorder who showed a partial response to ADT. The company added that it expected to make a decision on these programs during the course of 2019.
The failure comes just a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a Johnson & Johnson nasal spray antidepressant, making it the first new type of treatment for the disorder in more than 30 years.
Analysts had expected rapastinel, a fast-acting intravenous antidepressant, to likely rival the J&J drug, which is a chemical mirror image of anesthetic ketamine.
Allergan bought rapastinel in 2015 from its collaborator Aptinyx and added another depression drug from the company last year.
The trial results highlighted the need for more options for people suffering from depression, with a large number of patients not responding to current treatments and some of the drugs carrying significant side effects.
Depression is a common disorder that currently affects 300 million people of all ages globally, according to the World Health Organization, calling it the leading cause of disability.
An interim analysis of the treatment in a relapse prevention study also indicated that the main goals will not be met, the company said.
Allergan’s shares were down 3.5 percent at $132.70.
(Reporting by Manogna Maddipatla and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)