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Cellceutix stock surging on optimism about new cancer drug

Beverly biotech company Cellceutix Corp. surged again on Wednesday, pushing its stock price up by 30 percent in two days of trading since it claimed to be ahead of giants Merck, Roche and Sanofi in the race to develop a new cancer drug.

Cellceutix closed trading on the Nasdaq exchange at $2.42 per share on Wednesday, an all-time high since the company went public in February 2008. The nearly 2 million shares traded were the second most in company history.

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As recently as Nov. 26, a share of Cellceutix cost less than $1.

Cellceutix said on Monday that a cancer drug it is testing in clinical trials at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is more advanced than similar medications under development by the larger drugmakers, whose efforts were chronicled in a front-page article in The New York Times Sunday. The story did not mention Cellceutix.

Cellceutix chief executive Leo Ehrlich issued a statement noting that Merck, Roche and Sanofi are not yet in the clinical trial stage.

“The New York Times may have overlooked Cellceutix and [its drug] Kevetrin, but the organizations that are contacting us to host and sponsor clinical trials certainly have not,” Ehrlich said.

All of the drug companies are working on cancer drugs that would reactivate a protein called p53, sometimes called “the angel of death” because it triggers the destruction of badly damaged cells. Cancer cells disable p53, allowing them to multiply.

An effective p53 drug would be a breakthrough, cancer specialists say, because it could treat many forms of cancer, including some rare diseases. Most cancer drugs are effective against only certain types of cancer.

Cellceutix has run up a $17 million operating deficit since its inception in 2007, but optimism about Kevetrin appears to be attracting investors. Earlier this month, Illinois private equity firm Aspire Capital agreed to buy $10 million of Cellceutix stock over the next three years. On the day the deal was announced, Cellceutix’s stock price jumped by 20 percent and more than 1 million shares were traded.

Last week, participants in the Kevetrin clinical trial began a second round of treatment in which dosage levels have been doubled.

Dr. Krishna Menon, Cellceutix’s chief scientific officer, reported that “we have not seen any of the toxic side effects that are commonly associated with chemotherapy at this point.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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