Rare Diseases

Biotech Fumbles the Start of Its Biggest Annual Showcase: Gadfly

Day one of the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference — typically the biotech industry’s biggest showcase of the year — was something of a dud.

The Nasdaq Biotech Index (NBI) fell as much as 2 percent on Monday. That’s not a rout, but it is a disappointment.

The sector was hit by a flurry of bad news just as the confab began. Companies involved in Crispr gene-editing technology fell after the revelation on Friday that some patients may develop an immunity to the technique. Axovant Sciences Ltd. on Monday said it would stop work on a brain drug that failed a key trial in September. And Ironwood Pharmaceuticals Inc. shares fell after it warned of lower-than-expected U.S. sales of its lead drug.

Meanwhile, Shire PLC delayed a possible split of its neurology and rare-disease businesses and said it wouldn’t meet a “stretch” 2020 revenue goal it had set in 2015. Its shares fell 5 percent on Monday.

Major deal activity was limited to Celgene Corp.’s relatively small purchase of a drug that had been discarded by Sanofi and the revelation that Novo Nordisk A/S had made a rejected $3.1 billion bid for Ablynx NV. Investors were likely hoping for something meatier.