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Millennium's Future Remains Cloudy

It's been a lousy year for holders of Millennium Pharmaceuticals (MLNM).

To turn things around, Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium must convince a skeptical Wall Street that it can become a growth story again. Millennium's multiple myeloma drug Velcade continues to post year-over-year sales growth, but the rate of that growth has slowed as the drug's penetration into the advanced multiple myeloma market matures.

And while Millennium still appears to be on track to reach profitability in 2006, confidence in this goal has waned over the past 12 months because sales of Velcade have managed to hit only the low end of the company's guidance. Because of intense competition, there's been no real help either from Integrilin, the company's blood-thinning drug used during certain heart surgeries.

"Millennium has guided to profits in 2006, but right now, this goal appears to be reachable more on expense cuts than on sales growth," says SG Cowen analyst Phil Nadeau, whose own model for the company has it reaching only break-even in 2006. SG Cowen doesn't rate stocks but Nadeau believes Millennium is fairly valued at these levels; his firm doesn't have a banking relationship with the company.

For growth-hungry biotech investors, backing into profitability by cutting costs is considered almost cheating, which helps explain Millennium's current woes. After slipping 2.3% to $12.09 on Thursday, the biopharmaceutical firm is down 34% this year, seriously underperforming the 1% gain in the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index and 7.5% gain in the Amex Biotechnology Index.

Adding insult to shareholders' injury, analysts' net-loss estimates for Millennium in 2004 and 2005 have grown (and top-line estimates have dropped) over the past 12 months as Velcade sales have not lived up to the more bullish expectations.

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