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4 Platform Drugmakers to Watch

There's something really great about platform drugmakers. The fact that they can effortlessly roll out five or six drugs using the same technology -- extending patents in the process -- just makes me want to smile. Let's take a look at a few of the platform drugmakers that have the possibility of becoming multibaggers if their technologies catch fire.

Smaller is better
Abraxis BioScience (Nasdaq: ABBI  ) is developing drugs based on its nab (nanoparticle-albumin bound) technology. Essentially, the company takes chemotherapy drugs and surrounds them with albumin protein. Since albumin is used by tumor cells as a way to bring in nutrients, the tumor cells take up the albumin-bound drug more readily than they would a similar drug without albumin. The shell also increases the solubility of the drug, making it easier to deliver it to wherever it's needed in the body.

Abraxane, the company's one marketed drug based on the nab technology, has been competing well against the other taxanes on the market -- Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY  ) Taxol and Sanofi-Aventis' (NYSE: SNY  ) Taxotere -- since it was approved to treat metastatic breast cancer in 2005. Abraxis is running additional clinical trials to get its label expanded to include other types of tumors.

The company is also developing four other chemotherapy drugs based on the nab technology. Two clinical trials for nab-docetaxel have already begun, and clinical studies for nab-rapamycin are expected to begin later this year. The other two molecules are still in pre-clinical trials, but could be in the clinic as early as 2008.

Investors who would like to purchase Abraxis just for its platform technology would be better off waiting until later in the year. The company is set to spin off its generic drug business, so waiting will let you buy into a pure play in platform technology.

Lasting pain relief
Drug-delivery specialist DURECT (Nasdaq: DRRX  ) has developed a platform that allows for the slow release of drugs over time. The viscous, gel-like substance comes in two forms: the SABER technology for applying directly to a wound during surgery, and the ORADUR technology, which is delivered through a capsule. The latter is being used by King Pharmaceuticals and Pain Therapeutics to develop Remoxy, an abuse-resistant version of oxycodone.

The cool thing about the technology is that it can be formulated to deliver drugs over periods as short as a day or as long as three months. While the company has limited itself to using its technology with pain relief drugs, the technology could be used with other drugs -- antibiotics for instance -- that need to be delivered over long periods of time. Look for DURECT to set up additional partnerships as its technology is proven successful in current late-stage clinical trials.

A molecular machete
The efficacy of a lot of drugs, especially large protein molecules like monoclonal antibodies, is low because they can't get inside the cell to do their job. Halozyme Therapeutics (Nasdaq: HALO  ) thinks it has discovered a way to provide an opening for the molecules to get inside the cell. The company's Enhanze Technology is essentially a high-dose formula of its Hylenex drug. The drug breaks down the matrix outside the cell, creating channels for the large drug molecules to enter the cell.

Halozyme has run an initial proof of concept clinical trial with a representative large protein molecule, but so far it has only been able to convince Roche to use the technology to further develop drugs. The technology seems a little speculative at this point -- Roche was only willing to pay $20 million up front for the rights -- so this platform is probably the least developed of the bunch.

Two for the price of one
Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Flamel Technologies (Nasdaq: FLML  ) has not one but two platforms to develop drugs. Its Medusa technology combines protein drugs into a nanoparticle that breaks down slowly in the patient, thereby releasing the drug slowly over time. Meanwhile, its Micropump technology is designed for extended or delayed release of drugs by coating them in a polymer-coated microparticle that breaks down slowly in the small intestine.

Flamel has developed one extended release drug from its platform, GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE: GSK  ) COREG CR, but it has a whole host of drugs in its pipeline that could be partnered out. With a recently disclosed partnership with Wyeth, things may be turning around for Flamel.

I'd classify all of these companies' platforms as still in the developmental stage, since none of them has developed even two drugs using their platforms. They could end up being one-hit wonders, or their platforms could develop multiple drugs over the coming years. Only time will tell which way they'll go, but they're all certainly worth keeping your eye on.

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