It seems like Hemispherx Biopharma – the maker of Ampligen – has been the under the gun for years. Last year it settled a 2012 class action lawsuit alleging it made false and misleading claims about Ampligen. It endured another lawsuit in 2009 for more alleged federal securities violations. Last year it was called “a penny-stock firm with a penchant for hype” by Damien Garde at Fierce Biotech.
According to Investor Wired Hemipsherx’s net loss including non-cash effects, averaged about $12 million or $(0.05) a share in the first nine months of the last two years.With regards to cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities the company lost about $4 million in the first nine months of 2015 ($16,108,000 – $12,375,000).
The news has not been all bad, though. Hemispherx Biopharma was rated the ninth best performing health care stock of 2012. Citing Hemispherx’s ability to achieve additional patent protection for Ampligen in Europe through 2029, Investor Wired put Hemispherx Biopharma on its “Biotech Stocks to Watch List” at the end of last year. It’s all more of the roller-coaster for Ampligen and Hemispherx Biopharma.
The fact that Ampligen is even still around may be something of a small miracle. It’s hard to envision a more difficult drug pathway than for a small drug company producing a drug for a controversial disease like ME/CFS.
It’s a telling sign of drug company wariness towards ME/CFS that decades after Ampligen was introduced, it’s still the only drug to go through the FDA approval process for the disease, and no other drugs are in sight. Until FDA approves the first medicine for ME/CFS, no significant investment in this disease will likely come from the pharma industry. Ampligen represents an important logjam in ME/CFS treatment that has to be solved.
For all the difficulty surrounding Hemispherx, it should be noted that the company managed to keep Ampligen alive long enough to hopefully take advantage of the changed landscape for ME/CFS.
Change at the Top
A new era for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) appears to be dawning at the NIH. With Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, taking the lead in the fight to understand and treat ME/CFS, a window of opportunity has opened for Ampligen.
Hemispherx Biopharma’s first move to capitalize on that opportunity was to fire its long time CEO and Chairman, William Carter (and two of his relatives) and elevate Thomas Equels, former Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice Chairman to the Presidency.
Stating that it was re-examining its fundamental priorities, Hemispherx Biopharma’s (HB’s) board pledged it would implement a “strong financial austerity plan”. (In 2014, Carter made $2,364,874 including about $2,000,000 in cash and a $894,000 bonus.) Equels was given a mandate to “strengthen internal controls, achieve enhanced governance, and create an environment for greater stockholder value.” Equels was brought in, in other words, to institute a new era of efficiency and productivity in order to appeal to investors.
In an interview Equels stated that “commitment, integrity and cooperation” were to be the new bylines for Hemispherx. He made it clear – in fact, he repeatedly emphasized – that Hemispherx Biopharma’s number one goal was getting FDA approval for Ampligen for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). To that end, Hemispherx was developing an “overarching strategy” to pull in public and private investors to move the drug forward. Acknowledging that Hemispherx’s resources were limited at this point, he said he’d be pulling the plug on all non-priority activities.
That overarching strategy includes fixing Hemispherx’s strained relationship with the FDA. There’s been no love lost between the FDA and Hemispherx Biopharma. Several advocates told me they held their breath whenever the sometimes fiery Carter spoke at the FDA hearing. Some felt Hemispherx was treated unduly harshly, and not given the opportunity to respond when safety issues the company thought were resolved came to the fore.
The FDA, however, acknowledges that ME/CFS community urgently needs drug options, and FDA officials have said that the safety issues for the drug have been resolved. Some advocates that have met with them believe they are eager to move forward on ME/CFS.
Equels said he’d met with Janet Woodcock at the FDA to understand where the FDA sees the gaps. He pledged Hemispherx would be there “arms locked with FDA officials” to do what was necessary to move the drug forward. Hemispherx officials also apparently quickly talked with NINDS chief Dr. Koroshetz not long after NIH Director Collins announced the NIH would reinvigorate ME/CFS research.
At the end of the day, Equels said, we have a proven therapy – it’s about bringing it across the finish line.
- Learn more about Ampligen and ME/CFS including success stories in Health Rising’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Ampligen Resource Center
Next up: Making the Case For Ampligen
(Disclosure: Hemispherx Biopharma has contributed funding to a project underway at Health Rising.)