Ocera Therapeutics (OCRX) Working On A Promising Liver Drug

Ocera Therapeutics Inc (NASDAQ:OCRX) is slightly higher this afternoon, currently up two cents and trading at $1.34. Earlier this morning, it was announced that Aegis Capital had reaffirmed its Buy rating on Ocera’s stock – while maintaining a price target of $3.00. The upside, according to Aegis analyst Difel Yang, is about 124 percent.

The firm’s upgrade follows a big piece of news that Ocera made public after the market close on Wednesday – news that made the company’s share price open 36 cents, or 30 percent, higher on Thursday.

The big catalyst was the biopharmaceutical developer announcing that data from its preclinical Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE) therapy – OCR-002 – will be presented at this year’s International Liver Congress. The annual event is held by the European Association for the Study of the Liver and will take place on April 20th in Amsterdam.

Ocera’s product was developed by the company to combat HE, which is a complication stemming the most extreme forms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – like liver cirrhosis or liver failure. NAFLD represents a large range of liver conditions from hepatic steatosis, which is accumulated fat in the liver, to things like advanced fibrosis.

“We are again excited to see evidence of OCR-002’s ability to target ammonia in hyperammonemia-related indications that in turn drives clinical improvement,” said Stan Bukofzer, M.D., the company’s Chief Medical Officer. “In our recently completed STOP-HE Phase 2b study in patients hospitalized with acute hepatic encephalopathy (HE), OCR-002 demonstrated a highly statistically significant correlation between rapid reduction of the neurotoxin ammonia, and improvement in the neurocognitive symptoms of HE (p=0.0006).”

According to Dr. Bukofzer, the preclinical data that will be presented at the conference on Thursday shows the strength of OCR-002’s ability to considerably reduce the progression of liver fibrosis – and the company believes it has wider potential to target more ammonia-based complications.

During the study to be presented at the conference, lab rats were given a high fat and high cholesterol regimen for up to four months, then were compared to rats who were fed a normal diet. The rats that had developed NAFLD had high increases in ammonia content, and higher levels of cholesterol. The rats that received OCR-002 reportedly demonstrated a significant drop in their liver fibrosis, along with substantially decreasing liver to body weight ratio, hepatic collagen content and hepatic lipid content.

According to Professor Rajiv Jalan, whose group completed the preclinical trial, the results further prove that ammonia is more than simply a neurotoxin. The data sets ammonia up as a therapeutic target to prevent NAFLD in future research.

“As OCR-002 is already in advanced stages of clinical development, these data can readily be translated into real benefits for patients with appropriate clinical trials,” Dr. Jalan added.

The author of this article holds no positions in any of the companies mentioned above.

Tim is a contributing analyst for EconomicCalendar.com and specializes in equities trading and public offerings. He is a graduate of UCLA and began his career doing capital markets research for a top investment banking software provider.