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Biotech Stock Mailbag: GenVec

Stocks in this article: GNVC DNDN ANX EXAS CYCC MDVN ALKS

Jeff Taylor writes, " I haven't written in a while. Perhaps a few years ago you recall that I pointed GenVec (GNVC) out to you. I have a little experience here. My take is this licensing deal with Novartis (NVS) for hearing loss is just a bonus. The rocket ship leaves when the interim on the 184th event for the PACT trial is released in about 10 weeks. This will put it in lock step with ASCO. For those of us nibbling at the under-a-dollar prices, the train has left the station."

I found plenty of reasons to be cautious about TNFerade, GenVec's gene therapy drug for pancreatic cancer, after the company released data from the first interim analysis of the phase III study in November 2008. I won't go over the details here because you can go back and read my analysis.

One lesson I learned painfully last year is that long-shot drugs can and do surprise to the upside, so it would be foolish to totally dismiss the possibility of more positive results from the second interim look at the TNFerade "PACT" study, which, as Jeff points out, should be released at the end of March.

Speculative investors are thinking along the same lines, which explains why GenVec shares have almost doubled since the end of December. (The stock closed Thursday at $2.39.)

Regarding Tuesday's licensing pact between GenVec and Novartis for a preclinical (very early stage) hearing loss treatment, and whether or not it has deeper meaning, I'm in agreement with BNET's Trista Morrison, who wrote of the deal:

"I can think of two possible reasons: 1) Novartis didn't want TNFerade, or 2) Novartis did want TNFerade but would rather pay a scant $7 million upfront to test the waters in a preclinical program before committing to Phase III economics ahead of a risky data read-out. Or maybe Novartis just thought the hearing loss program was cool...but heck, you gotta wonder if somebody is eventually going to take the plunge and place a bigger gene therapy bet on TNFerade."

I will add that GenVec executives were talking about the importance of finding a TNFerade partner soon back in 2008. A deal still hasn't happened.

Needless to say, the upcoming second look at the TNFerde data should tell us a lot.

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