Yesterday, drug developer Panacos Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:PANC) announced its first-quarter financial numbers and gave investors an update on the path forward for its lead compound, HIV treatment candidate bevirimat.

Last year, shares of Panacos fell 30% to the $4 range after it revealed a delay in its clinical trial program related to bevirimat. Unexpected setbacks like this happen all the time with young development-stage pharmaceutical companies. And on yesterday's conference call, Panacos' management did a good job of giving much more color on the issues related to a tablet formulation of bevirimat and how it is attempting to ameliorate these problems and advance the drug in clinical testing.

Management sounded much less certain about being able to develop a solid version of the compound, as opposed to the oral liquid formulation currently being used. But it estimated that by the end of the year there would be a "formulation (whether solid or liquid) suitable for long-term testing", and that management was "optimistic" about a solid version eventually becoming available.

Either way, the dose-escalating phase 2 trial with the liquid form of bevirimat is continuing, and more clinical trial results from patients with a higher dose of the drug will be available sometime in the second quarter. Results from testing even higher doses of the drug are expected at quarterly intervals through at least the end of the year until a maximum effect of bevirimat is found.

Besides the somewhat sloppy execution of the current phase 2 study -- in which the same patient groups will be potentially using different formulations of the drug -- Panacos is making good strides in moving its compounds forward and not excessively burning through its cash.

From an investor's point of view, this sort of HIV treatment clinical trial execution would definitely not be acceptable for a larger and more experienced pharma like Merck (NYSE:MRK). For a small drug developer like Panacos, there is potential for multibagger returns if it can successfully commercialize bevirimat. So I'm content to wait things out while management sorts through the drug's formulation issues.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler likes Muenster and owns shares of Panacos, but holds no financial position in any other company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.