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March Madness is in the air this week with the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, and the first-round eliminations have begun. If the stock market worked like the tournament, there are three health-care stocks that would have been among the first to exit this week. Let's take a closer look.
Big Dance jitters
Shares of Ziopharm Oncology (NASDAQ: ZIOP ) fell nearly 14% this week, probably in part because of investor anxiety over the pending release of phase 3 results for palifosfamide in the treatment of metastatic soft tissue sarcoma. Ziopharm plans to announce the results next week. Good results for palifosfamide will have shareholders dancing. Bad results will put them in a foul mood.
Ziopharm began the week by reporting disappointing financial results. The company lost an adjusted $0.48 per share in the fourth quarter, worse than the $0.29 loss analysts expected. Ziopharm's operating expenses were much higher, primarily because of a milestone payment in the form of 3.6 million shares given to Intrexon.
Pothole in the road to the Final Four
Just a few weeks ago, Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ: PCYC ) looked like the market equivalent of a Final Four contender. Shares were up more than 50% year to date in early March before easing back a little. However, the stock dropped 13% this week, with much of the decline occurring on Thursday in heavy trading.
The only real new development this week related to Pharmacyclics was Morgan Stanley's initiation of coverage of the stock on Tuesday with an "equal weight" rating. That doesn't appear to be the catalyst for the share plunge, though. It could simply be that investors decided to take some profits off the table.
Pharmacyclics' smooth road so far this year stemmed in large part from good news from the FDA. In February, the company announced that ibrutinib had become the first cancer drug to receive "breakthrough therapy" designation from the FDA. Ibrutinib, which Pharmacyclics is developing with Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ ) Janssen division, targets treatment of relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma and Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia.
Losing the ball
Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH ) had the ball stolen away this week. Shares fell nearly 10% this week after Walgreen (NASDAQ: WBA ) announced that it's ending its contract with the drug distributor.
This was particularly bad news for Cardinal, because Walgreen currently accounts for 21% of overall sales. That revenue won't be easy to replace. As my Motley Fool colleague Brandy Betz recently noted, this development could put Cardinal at a disadvantage in negotiating with other large customers. They all know how badly Cardinal needs their business -- and that knowledge could translate to lower margins for the beleaguered distributor.
At least Cardinal has some time to attempt some fast-break selling. The Walgreen contract doesn't expire until the end of fiscal 2013. However, the shot clock will tick away quickly.
With double-digit declines like all three of these stocks had this week, would it be sheer madness to invest in any of them? I don't think so. While I would definitely stay away from Cardinal Health, the other two have potential. Both Pharmacyclics and Ziopharm could be humongous winners -- depending on how the clinical-results ball bounces.
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