Updated from 2:46 p.m. EST

Shares of

Neoforma

(NEOF)

were among the best-performing health-related stocks Wednesday, rising 16.6% after the company said it hired Merrill Lynch to help explore strategic alternatives.

The provider of information systems used by the health care industry said alternatives include a possible sale or merger of the company. The move is being made "in order to achieve greater stockholder value," the company said.

Neoforma said that any transaction would likely require the consent of

VHA

and the University HealthSystem Consortium, two health care alliances that own - on a combined basis -- a majority of Neoforma's outstanding shares. VHA and

UHC

are the owners of Novation, Neoforma's largest customer. Shares traded up $1.16 to $8.13.

Bradley Pharmaceuticals

(BDY)

rose 4.2% Wednesday, despite lowering its 2005 earnings and sales guidance. The company now expects earnings of $1.63 a share on sales of $173 million. Previously, it expected earnings of $1.90 a share on sales of $190 million. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had been expecting earnings of $1.68 a share on sales of $171.5 million.

The weaker outlook was attributed to quicker market erosion of AnaMantle hemorrhoid therapy, as a result of recently introduced comparable products, and early competition for Keralac Nail Gel and Keralac Lotion. The company is requesting an expedited review by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its pending patent application relating to Keralac products. "Although the company cannot be certain that this patent will issue, the company believes that the product is patentable and that, if issued, the patent will provide the company with certain protection for Keralac products in the marketplace," the company said. Shares traded up 62 cents to $15.56.

Shares of

Ista Pharmaceuticals

(ISTA)

fell 7.4% after the company said it would sell 4.5 million shares of stock to the public. Banc of America Securities and Thomas Weisel Partners are leading the underwriting syndicate. The shares are being sold pursuant to an existing and effective shelf registration. Shares traded down 74 cents to $9.26.

Myriad Genetics

(MYGN) - Get Report

rose 13.8% after the company said it started enrolling patients for a phase III trial to study Flurizan, the company's Alzheimer drug. The trial is designed to determine Flurizan's ability to alter the course of cognitive decline and behavioral change in Alzheimer patients. Flurizan is currently being studied in a phase II trial involving 210 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. The patients have now been on the drug for more than nine months. The phase II trial's clinical study period is expected to conclude in March 2005. Shares traded up $3.02 to $24.95.

Shares of

HCA

(HCA) - Get Report

rose 10.1% after the company previewed fourth-quarter results. When the company posts full results on Feb. 1, the hospital operator expects earnings of 68 cents to 72 cents a share, up from previous guidance of 52 cents to 57 cents a share. Sales, meanwhile, are expected to be $5.9 billion. Analysts had been expecting earnings of 55 cents a share on sales of $5.92 billion. Results for the quarter benefited from a lower tax rate, a reduction in the number outstanding shares, and a lower provision for doubtful accounts. Shares traded up $4.02 to $43.70.

Other health care movers included

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

, down 12 cents to $26.03;

Aastrom Biosciences

(ASTM)

, up 18 cents to $2.76;

StemCells

(STEM)

, up 12 cents to $5.37;

Biopure

(BPUR)

, up 1 cent to 57 cents;

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

, down 9 cents to $31.08;

Amgen

(AMGN) - Get Report

, up $1.09 to $64.87;

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

, up 10 cents to $21.41; and

Bristol-Myers Squibb

(BMY) - Get Report

, up 6 cents to $24.66.