Opko enters animal health market with big plans for oncology

Elderly Dog
Opko is jumping into the burgeoning market for cancer drugs to treat companion animals.

Miami-based biotech Opko Health ($OPK) is branching out into animal health, joining one of the fastest growing segments of the industry: oncology. But the company--which has seen its share of struggles on the human health side of its business--will face plenty of competition as it embarks on its new endeavor.

On October 27, Opko announced it is setting up a specialty animal health business unit in cooperation with its Spain- and Ireland-based subsidiaries, the latter of which has been developing several cancer drugs for pets.

“Opko’s oncology products, developed with the support of Opko Ireland, are meant to treat common cancers in pets; over 6 million dogs and 6 million cats are diagnosed with cancer in the United States annually,” said CEO Phillip Frost in a press release. The company did not provide any details about what that product line would include, except to say it will begin offering “select prescription products” for pets in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The company will start by introducing several over-the-counter products for pets in the first quarter of next year, according to the release. Its marketing team is working with “key opinion leaders” to develop its strategy, it added.

Opko scored its first big win in human health in June, when the FDA approved Rayaldee, its drug to treat secondary hyperparathyroidism (SHPT) in some people with chronic kidney disease. The company intends to launch the drug this year in the U.S., and it has partnered with Vifor Fresenius to commercialize it in several overseas markets.

But there have been some setbacks with other products. Earlier this month, Opko’s stock dropped nearly 10% to $9.53 after an insurer declined to cover its prostate cancer test, 4Kscore. And the company is under investigation by a class action law firm claiming its board of directors potentially breached its fiduciary duty. Opko said in a statement it does “not believe there is any basis or merit behind the investigation.”

In August, Opko announced that its revenues for the first 6 months of the year were $648.1 million, up from $72.5 million in the same period last year, and that it swung from a loss of $159.9 million to net income of $15.5 million.

As for its new animal health venture, Opko is entering a market that’s becoming increasingly crowded. Several animal health companies are developing drugs to treat cancer in pets, including Nexvet ($NVET), which formed a partnership earlier this year with Japan-based Zenoaq to develop cancer immunotherapies for companion animals. Colorado-based VetDC is awaiting FDA approval for Tanovea (rabacfosadine), a drug it acquired from Gilead ($GILD) and developed for use in dogs with lymphoma.

Frost is optimistic about Opko’s ability to compete. "Opko is in a unique position to offer health care products for companion animals with minimal investment by utilizing its existing product and manufacturing resources," he said in the release.

- here’s the press release

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