Prana Biotechnology Limited shares crash on trial results

NASDAQ-listed shares in Prana Biotechnology Limited (ASX: PBT) (NASDAQ: PRAN) plunged a whopping 70% overnight, after the company announced its PBT2 phase 2 clinical trial into Alzheimer’s disease failed to meet its primary endpoint of a statistically significant reduction in the levels of beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of patients involved in its Alzheimer’s clinical trial.

The company established to commercialise research into Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-degenerative disorders put a brave face on the results, but any representative knocking on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) door for approval to commercialise the drugs on the basis of these results would presumably need a good poker face.

In the trial 42 Alzheimer’s patients were provided the drug or a placebo over a 52-week treatment period, however those on the placebo exhibited equivalent neurological results as those prescribed the drug for the trial’s primary endpoint. Furthermore, no improvements were observed on the secondary endpoints of brain metabolic activity, cognition and function.

Greater scrutiny may also now be applied to the clinical trial data recently released regarding the efficacy of its PBT2 drug as a treatment for Huntington’s disease, results that were covered in this recent article. The company says it still intends to go ahead with a “confirmatory” trial over its treatment for Huntington’s disease with the intention of seeking eventual U.S. FDA approval.

Prana’s sudden rise and faster fall is a salutary lesson for investors who base their assumptions on the sometimes-dubious nature of news flows driving share prices sky high only to crash back down again.

Across stockmarkets globally for every buyer there’s a seller and when it comes to highly-speculative businesses investors should be aware that both parties may sometimes have vested interests in promoting positive or negative news flows through professional public relations agencies. This may be in an attempt to profit handsomely from either long or short positions held in a security. Those caught out by Prana may be a nursing a nasty hangover this morning, as the old investing adage of buy the rumour and sell the fact comes home to roost.

Foolish takeaway

Given the scale of the price falls it appears the market is now discounting the company’s chances of getting PBT2 approved for the treatment of Huntington’s disease, and even ardent drinkers of the Prana Kool-Aid would find it hard to spin these results in a positive way.

Speculative biotechs often trade on optimism and collapse in reality, which is a shame as the company’s mission to treat some of the world’s most common diseases is a highly commendable one, even if now it seems likely to fail.

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Motley Fool contributor Tom Richardson does not own shares in any company mentioned in this article. You can find him on twitter @tommyr345

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