NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It can be considered relatively safe to trade biotech stock run-ups ahead of FDA approval decisions and advisory panels. These binary events give traders the benefit of having a fixed date to trade around. Traders who want to minimize risk can exit or reduce their positions before these dates. Clinical trials, however, rarely give traders this type of security because the timing of data announcements is usually a guessing game. When companies do give guidance on the timing of clinical trial results, it's usually no more specific than a certain quarter or half year.
For traders like myself, the lack of a narrow time window around which to trade clinical trial results is a dangerous situation. The last thing I want to happen is to become trapped in a stock when data results are announced unexpectedly. The only time I'll trade around clinical trial results is when a company offers a narrow time window for announcing results.
Celsion (CLSN) was a recent and profitable example. Last November, the company announced it would have phase III study results ready for release in January. Immediately, shares of Celsion went on a huge run, as traders now had a definitive timeline to trade around. Traders were able to close out positions at the end of December with profits and avoid the risk of holding stock if/when Celsion announced results. And getting out of Celsion prior to the data turned out to be the smart trade because the phase III study failed. Celsion shares now trade for less than $1.
Another biotech run-up trading opportunity presents itself today with Ziopharm (ZIOP - Get Report), which has told investors to expect phase III study results for it sarcoma drug palifosfamide in the last week of March.With overall market uncertainty, I have been trading biotech catalysts with much tighter windows. When the speculative markets are running, it can be profitable to buy any stock with a catalyst, no matter how far out. However, the markets have been trading in a much tighter range, with European economic concerns and potential government actions drawing more attention. Ziopharm falls perfectly into this trading style because we have less than a month before the palifosfamide data are announced. As we get closer, I expect the company to gain more interest from investors and traders, especially since the catalyst occurs much sooner than the late April and early May regulatory catalysts that many traders are focused on -- Sucampo (SCMP), Raptor Pharmaceuticals (RPTP), Navidea Biopharmaceuticals (NAVB), Titan Pharmaceuticals (TTNP), Aveo Oncology (AVEO) and Delcath Systems (DCTH) . After a recent price-target reduction from Jefferies, Ziopharm shares are trading near their 52-week low in the $4 range. Even with the palifosfamide data immient, the stock is still trading well below last summer's highs in the low-$6 range. I expect as we get closer to its clinical trial catalyst, Ziopharm shares will break through $5 and trade into the mid to high $5 range. As always, run-up traders should close their positions before the last week of March. Disclosure: Messier is long Ziopharm.