The news of yet another lawsuit being filed in Delaware is easy to overlook, especially in today's society, where such filings are about as common -- and, I would argue, bothersome -- as pigeon droppings.
Abraxane isn't just any new drug. In January 2005, it became the first drug using nanoparticles to receive FDA approval. Due to their small size, the nanoparticles have a number of unique attributes. Specifically, they helped improve the effectiveness of Taxol (the active molecule in Abraxane is the same as in Taxol) by lowering toxicity and opening up the possibility that the drug could be used by some patients for whom Taxol had lost its efficacy.
As a result of the FDA approval, the company's stock soared in early 2005. Much of the run-up was not directly attributable to Abraxane -- even though the drug recorded $134 million in sales in the past year and Abraxis agreed to a partnership with AstraZeneca
And it is here that the Elan lawsuit could have the most chilling affect on Abraxis' long-term prospects. Until the legal issues are resolved, a dark, menacing cloud will linger over the company's head.
Abraxis' stock, which has fallen nearly 60% from its 52-week high, might make a compelling buy for more risk-tolerant investors, but my personal recommendation is to stay indoors and take a wait-and-see approach.
This is not because I have any unique knowledge of the patent in question. Rather, it is because if Abraxis Biosciences is found guilty, the company may well have to pay sizeable retributions to Elan. Moreover, the future value of its other drugs may also be greatly reduced. On the other hand, if it is found innocent, it simply has Elan's lawyers off its back. It must still seek FDA approval for those other applications in which it hopes to use the nanoparticle formulation -- and this can often be a long process.
To put it another way, my forecast for Abraxis reads like a cautious weather report. "A cool front appears to have settled in for the foreseeable future, bringing with it cloudy skies and a good chance of rain."
For more on Abraxis and Abraxane, read:
Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is neither a weatherman nor a lawyer. He has little faith in the former and, much like pigeon droppings, he tries to avoid the latter. He is the author of two books on nanotechnology and owns stock in Elan. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.