On a volatile day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) fell nearly 250 points as the feckless Congressional supercommittee left no doubt that partisan intransigence would supersede any debt deal, significantly large moves happened in the health-care sector. For instance, a week after after announcing the elimination of its stem-cell program, Geron (Nasdaq: GERN ) jumped 12%, while Alexa Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ALXA ) fell 13% on double its normal trading volume.
Let's focus on three biotechs that made moves because of breaking news.
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: SPPI ) announced that the FDA is playing nicely by allowing patients taking lymphoma treatment Zevalin to skip a scan after starting treatment. Management is hoping the increased ease of use will attract additional patients, because so far sales have been disappointing. In fact, in its most recent quarter, sales of Zevalin declined from a meager $7.7 million a year ago to $6.9 million today. The stock has been buoyed by a shortage of leucoverin, a generic that competes with Spectrum's branded drug Fusilev, but investors shouldn't expect that situation to last forever.
Speaking of which, Pharmasset (Nasdaq: VRUS ) knows how to go out in style. Shares closed up 85% as Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD ) announced an $11 billion buyout, a 59% premium above Pharmasset's all-time high.
Gilead is getting PSI-7977, an oral treatment that doesn't require interferon injections and their nasty side effects. Oral-drug candidates such as Pharmasset's PSI-7977, Inhibitex's INX-189, and Achillion's ACH-1625 are the potential future backbone of drug cocktails used for attacking hepatitis C. Gilead has a host of hep-C drugs in its pipeline, and its work with HIV shows that it's adept at creating effective drug combinations. The multibillion-dollar race for hepatitis C treatment supremacy is well under way.
Finally, Regeneron (Nasdaq: REGN ) received FDA approval for wet age-related macular degeneration treatment Eylea last Friday evening. Shares were up more than 10% on the news. Eylea is priced aggressively compared with Roche's Lucentis, and it shouldn't run into the same infection issues that caused the VA to discontinue off-label use of Avastin use. By presenting a cheaper and safer option, Regeneron investors are hoping Eylea will be positioned to take a sizable bite out of Roche's market share.
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