Sunesis Pharma rises on cancer drug study details

NEW YORK -- Shares of Sunesis Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose Friday after the company discussed plans for an upcoming trial of its cancer drug vosaroxin.

THE SPARK: Sunesis held a conference call with investors and analysts Thursday and detailed its studies on vosaroxin, an experimental treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. The company said its trial will compare vosaroxin to a variety of treatments, and will also use a combination of vosaroxin and the chemotherapy drug cytarabine. The trial will involve elderly patients, and it will measure the overall survival of patients and the rate at which the patients' tumors respond to the drugs.

If the mid-stage trial is successful, Sunesis said it will be able to add more patients and expand it into a late-stage trial.

THE BIG PICTURE: Acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, is an aggressive cancer of the blood. Last month Sunesis said it was expanding a late-stage trial of vosaroxin as a treatment for AML that had not responded to other drugs or had returned after one previous round of therapy. The expansion of the study increases the chances it will show a statistically significant difference in survival between patients treated with vosaroxin and patients treated with standard drugs.

Vosaroxin is Sunsesis' most advanced experimental drug. The company also has research partnerships with several other drug companies.

THE ANALYSIS: Wedbush analyst David Nierengarten said he is optimistic that vosaroxin will meet its goals in the new trial He kept an "Outperform" rating on Sunesis shares and raised his price target to $10 per share from $7.

SHARE ACTION: Sunesis shares rose 45 cents, or 7.7 percent, to close at $6.29. Earlier the stock reached a 52-week high of $6.85. Shares of Sunesis have surged this year after ending 2011 at $1.17.