Shares of Ziopharm Oncology (NASDAQ:ZIOP) were jumping 10.8% higher as of 11:55 a.m. EST on Friday. The solid gain came after the company provided its fourth-quarter update following the market close on Thursday.
Ziopharm announced a net loss in the fourth quarter of $22.8 million, or $0.11 per share. There were two bigger stories, though. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a green light for Ziopharm to begin testing its experimental T cell receptor-engineered T cell (TCR-T) therapies in phase 1/2 clinical studies. Also, Laurence Cooper is stepping down as CEO with board member Heidi Hagen taking his place as interim CEO.
Investors didn’t care that Ziopharm missed Wall Street’s bottom-line estimate for the fourth quarter. They were glad to hear the good news about the FDA’s clearance for the company to advance its TCR-T therapies into clinical testing.
The FDA decision clears the way for Ziopharm to use six “hotspot” TCRs from its library in potentially treating solid tumors. Ziopharm is working with MD Anderson Cancer Center on the planned clinical study.
Investors were also probably hopeful that Cooper’s departure is a sign that activist investor Bob Postma and his WaterMill Asset Management could put the company on a path to growth. Cooper’s resignation is almost certainly a direct result of WaterMill’s efforts.
What’s next for the biotech stock? Ziopharm expects to begin enrolling patients in the phase 1/2 study of its TCR-T therapies in the second half of this year. Meanwhile, a search for a permanent replacement for Cooper as CEO is in progress.
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