The Drug Company That Prospered Without Creating Any Drugs

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Health

The new drug looked so promising — except for that one warning sign.

At the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in 2008, Duke University’s Dr. John Sundy proudly announced that pegloticase, a drug he’d helped develop, was astoundingly effective at treating severe gout, which affects perhaps 50,000 Americans. In about half of those who had taken it, the drug melted away the crystalline uric acid deposits that encrusted their joints to cause years of pain, immobility, or disfigurement.

But Sundy also disclosed an unsettling detail: In one clinical trial, patients who got the drug were more likely to develop heart problems than those who didn’t. The day after Sundy’s talk, the stock price of Savient Pharmaceuticals, which developed the drug with Duke scientists, plunged 75%.

That danger signal would disappear in later studies, and the FDA approved pegloticase, under the trade name Krystexxa, two years later. But the small biotech company never recovered. In 2013, Savient was sold at auction to Crealta, a private equity venture created for the purpose, for $120 million.

Two years later, a young company now called Horizon Therapeutics bought Crealta and its drug portfolio for $510 million.

Even at that price, it proved a good deal. Krystexxa brought in $716 million in 2022 and was expected to earn $1 billion annually in coming years.

Although Horizon says it now has 20 drugs under …

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