In 2002, Tom Jacobs took a look at the Biotech Bargain Bin -- fallen biotechnology stocks with interesting research and lots of cash. One of those companies was $4.19-a-share Maxim Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MAXM). The company, with $122 million in cash, was selling for $1.05 a share less than cash! If Wall Street were Kmart (NASDAQ:KMRT) there would have been a blue light flashing when you looked at this stock online.

Maxim looked interesting because the company was burning through $33 million of cash yearly to fund its research. Doing simple math, the company could survive 3.3 years before new funding would be required -- and, maybe, new funding would never be needed.

Was there pixie dust in the air? Were Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL) shirts on sale for $5 each? Fast-forward to 2004, and you find out the bargain was a mirage.

The company is reporting today that Ceplene, its drug in phase 3 trials for the treatment of advanced malignant melanoma in patients with liver metastases, has failed to meet its primary endpoint. The news sent the stock down more than 50% to $3.19 a share -- a new 52-week low and less than its 2002 bargain bin price.

Today's failed test focused on promising data from a previous Ceplene test that did not win FDA approval and sent the stock to the bargain basement. With more than $2 in cash per share, Maxim is not dead financially -- although it bit the dust today. It's just mired in the bargain bin because failed drug tests are as appealing as out-of-fashion apparel.

Did the four "bargains" with the longest survival terms fare better? The stocks of Celera (NYSE:CRA), Cell Genesys (NASDAQ:CEGE), and Arena (NASDAQ:ARNA) all lost money over the last 2 1/3 year -- Arena lost a mind-numbing 45%. Alexion (NASDAQ:ALXN), up just 14%, was the only winner.

The risk in biotechnology start-ups is extremely high. They are sent to the bargain bin for a reason -- and trying to screen the best of the bargains by looking at cash does not produce encouraging results.

The Motley Fool is investors talking to investors. Discuss Maxim and Alexion -- and thousands of other stocks -- on the Motley Fool discussion boards.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.