Early Briefing: FDA Rejects Vanda Drug

* Vanda Pharmaceuticals' stock tumbled 73 percent Monday after federal regulators rejected the Rockville biotech's schizophrenia treatment, saying it was similar to a drug already on the market.

The action by the Food and Drug Administration cast a shadow over the company's future and its original business plan: take drugs abandoned by other firms and reposition them for sale.

In this case, Vanda paid $500,000 to buy a drug intended for psychiatric conditions from the Swiss company Novartis and hoped the drug, iloperidone, would treat the symptoms of schizophrenia. Recently, it had a similar experience with an insomnia drug that helped patients fall asleep faster but failed to show long-term results.

Monday, Vanda's shares fell $2.46, closing at 90 cents, the company's biggest percentage drop since it started trading two years ago.

Vanda has put all development activities related to iloperidone, the schizophrenia drug, on hold.

* News media company Gannett said it made a minority investment in Mogulus, an Internet video platform. The investment is for around $10 million, according to various reports.

The investment expands on McLean-based Gannett's three-month-old commercial agreement with Mogulus to provide broadcasting services on the company's Web sites.

Mogulus allows users to launch their own live television stations online, including multiple camera and editing capability.

* A Virginia state official Monday endorsed Dominion Virginia Power's plan to string a set of high voltage cables along a 65-mile stretch of rural and suburban Northern Virginia, delivering a blow to landowners and environmental groups that had spent millions of dollars trying to halt the controversial project.

Alexander F. Skirpan Jr., a hearing examiner with the State Corporation Commission, said in a written opinion that Dominion made a solid case for the line. The company has said the $243 million project is necessary to meet the demand for electricity in power-hungry Northern Virginia and to avoid the threat of blackouts beginning in 2011. Opponents have accused Dominion of exaggerating the need.

Skirpan also signed off on Dominion's proposed route for the 500-kilovolt line, which would begin in Frederick County, Va., and end at a substation in Loudoun County, winding in a U-shape through Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Warren and Prince William counties. The line would follow existing electric cable routes, but opponents note that the company, which has the power of condemnation, would have to acquire private land to widen its right of way. The cables would be carried atop steel towers ranging in height from 75 to 165 feet.

Skirpan's opinion will carry enormous weight as the project faces its final regulatory hurdle in the full three-judge commission, which will have final say over the project. Dominion and its adversaries filed hundreds of pages of arguments and studies, which the commission will consider when making its decision. The parties also testified over several days in Richmond, with Skirpan presiding over the hearings.

* The Chesapeake Bay's population of blue crabs remains in a historic slump, with the number of mature crabs declining by 23 million last year, according to new research.

The Blue Crab Advisory Report, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showed that the number of adult crabs fell to about 120 million this past winter from about 143 million the winter before.

Both numbers are below the target scientists said the blue crab population needs to reach: 200 million.

The data were calculated from the "winter dredge survey," in which scientists use ship-drawn shovels to dig crabs out of their cold-weather burrows in the bay.

These figures echo the conclusions of officials from Virginia and Maryland, who resolved this year to restrict the blue crab harvest, trying to rebuild the animal's numbers in the Chesapeake.

By Dan Beyers  |  July 29, 2008; 6:33 AM ET
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