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Resurgent BioCryst at It Again

Next month, BioCryst will be presenting data on another PNP inhibitor, fodosine, or BCX-1777, at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology. Fodosine is meant to treat late-stage cancer of the T-cells, as well as cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the skin, in patients whose disease hasn't responded to a prior therapy. T-cells play a large role in the body's immune system.

Even before the Roche deal, BioCryst shares have been on the comeback thanks to a drug called Peramivir. BioCryst says the drug can treat several strains of the common flu, but what really got investors' attention are Peramivir's prospects for fighting the H5N1 strain of the bird flu, the virus that's causing worry amid fears it could lead to a worldwide pandemic.

Peramivir, originally co-developed with Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), was shown to stop the replication of the avian flu in lab mice in 2001. However, late-stage studies missed their targets and the partnership dissolved, with J&J saying it wanted to focus on higher-priority drugs. Biocryst has said safety wasn't a factor in the decision to end the venture.

"In June this was a $4 stock," says Stephen Brozak of WBB Securities. "Five months later, the company is now a household name."

BioCryst shares reached a five-year high of $18.42 in October. As media coverage of the bird flu, which has been active in Asia and appears to be moving westward, diminished, shares of BioCryst eased lower to around $12. That was before the Roche deal reignited interest.

Of course it never hurts to be reminded that while BioCryst may in fact be experiencing a sustainable turnaround, what the market gives, it can just as easily take away.

If the FDA approves BioCryst's Peramivir application to enter human clinical trials, tests are expected to begin early next year. In collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the company plans to develop two versions of the drug, an injection into the muscle for early-stage patients and an intravenous injection for acutely ill patients.

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