FluMist was supposed to become the preferred way to get vaccinated for the flu. Inhaling medicine surely is preferable to having it injected, right? For developer MedImmune
FluMist sales have been disappointing so far, to say the least. MedImmune made up to 5 million doses, and only 400,000 had been sold as of mid-November. In a statement that didn't have to be made, a company spokeswoman said, "There is still a wide supply available."
Sales have been disappointing for two primary reasons. The first factor is cost. A local clinic charges $19 for a flu shot, while FluMist costs $60. Based on sales, most people seem to prefer the minor discomfort from a needle, as well as having an extra $41 to spend elsewhere, to inhaling FluMist.
Then there are the health warnings. FluMist is only for healthy patients between the ages of five and 49. The nasal spray isn't recommended for anyone who lives or works with someone who has a weakened immune system.
Despite these challenges, however, FluMist sales may start to increase sharply. Chiron
MedImmune, with core competencies in monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, is a profitable, fast-growing company. FluMist, because of the size of the market, was to be the company's crown jewel. It still may.
FluMist is just a product in its infancy, after all. Last Friday, the company reported new study results. "These new data demonstrate that live, attenuated, influenza vaccines may have a greater potential to produce a broad immunity to influenza, including drifted strains, than the inactivated flu vaccines." If you could demonstrate a better product, the higher sales price for FluMist could be justified.
MedImmune has almost as much cash as debt. At $27 a share, the stock is far from its $86.12 high in September 2000, and sells for 35 times trailing earnings. It is rare to see a profitable biotechnology company -- with a great pipeline, too -- at such a low price-to-earnings ratio. It is worth a look today.
FluMist, because of circumstances outside of the company's control, may sell out in its first year on the market. That could mean sales of $140 million -- not the reduced $55 million-$85 million the company forecast in mid-November. That alone could justify a much higher stock price.
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Since he's older than 49, W.D. Crotty is not a candidate for FluMist. You can e-mail W.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.