ImClone Systems revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday that it will end its bid to develop small molecules – reportedly including the anticancer agent Erbitux (cetuximab) as an oral pill - sending its share price down marginally on the New York Stock Exchange.

Erbitux was first thrust into dubious prominence in 2002 when its US approval was hampered by allegations of clinical trial protocol violations and an insider trading scandal, which in turn resulted in the imprisonment of the firm’s former chief executive, Sam Waksal, and lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart [[13/02/04b]].

However, since its eventual nod of approval last year, Erbitux – which is given in intravenous form - has performed well for both ImClone and partners Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck KGaA [[27/04/05c]]. But the US biotechnology company has now ended plans to develop small molecule drugs, saying its “pipeline and research heritage is in the development of antibodies,” which it believes offers greater potential in the short- and long-term.

“This action was taken after completion of an evaluation of the research being conducted within the small molecule group, and took into account the time horizon before commercial benefits would be realised. The company expects this plan to be completed by the middle of July 2005,” says the SEC filing.

As part of the news, ImClone will reportedly see the loss of 40-50 jobs, resulting in $2 million in costs and a possible $5.5 million in additional expenses.