What: Shares of Intrexon (PGEN 0.36%), a developer of gene-based therapies for a variety of diseases, surged as much as 24% during Thursday's trading session as a direct result of the spreading Zika virus. Shares ultimately finished higher by 10%.
So what: The Zika virus appears to be spreading like wildfire, and a new case was confirmed today in New York, leading some researchers to believe that an epidemic could be on the doorstep of the United States. Some forecasts have suggested that as many as 4 million people in the Americas could be affected by Zika, a virus that has been shown to cause birth defects in babies in Brazil. There currently is no cure for the Zika virus.
The reason the spread of Zika virus is notable for Intrexon is that it purchased Oxitec this past summer. Oxitec has numerous development programs targeting unmet global diseases, but one of those programs is targeting Zika. Considering that few other drug developers are researching a treatment for Zika, Intrexon could have a head start on a possible cure.
Now what: Although the spread of Zika virus does present an opportunity for Intrexon, it's important to keep in mind that epidemic threats don't always turn into profits for drug developers. Actions put in place by global regulatory agencies sometimes stop the spread of a disease in its tracks. Look at Ebola, which more or less wound up being snuffed out before a vaccination was developed. Vaccine developers are also dependent on global governments to buy their product. If they don't stock up enough, a Zika virus vaccine may not be profitable.
If you're looking at Intrexon today, or you happen to already own shares, the allure of this company lies with its RheoSwitch technology. Intrexon, in combination with Ziopharm Oncology, is working in the relatively new CAR-T treatment space, developing cancer treatments that can turn specific genes off and on. It has the potential to alter the way cancer is combatted, but it's also a very new technology. If Intrexon's valuation is heading higher over the long run, it'll be because of its RheoSwitch technology and oncology partnerships.