Shares of AVI BioPharma ( AVII) were among the best-performing health-related stocks Friday, rising 12% after the drug developer said a report showed that its proprietary Neugene product was successful in combating the Ebola virus in animals. The study showed that a combination of Neugene agents protected rodents in both pre- and post-exposure therapeutic regimens, the company said. What's more, a trial showed that 75% of rhesus macaque monkeys were protected from the virus when they received the treatment before lethal exposure to Ebola. "These findings serve as the basis for development of a whole class of gene-specific drugs that can be quickly produced in response to known, emerging or genetically engineered bioterrorism threats," the company said. Shares were trading up 55 cents to $5.17. HCA ( HCA) rose 3% after the hospital operator said fourth-quarter results could be better than Wall Street forecasts. The company expects to report earnings of 72 cents to 76 cents a share on sales of $6.2 billion. Results include a pretax gain of 4 cents a share and a reduction in estimated insurance reserves of 7 cents a share. The forecast also includes costs of 4 cents a share related to facilities affected by the hurricanes. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had projected fourth-quarter earnings of 65 cents a share and sales of $6.1 billion. For all of 2005, HCA estimates earnings of $3.17 to $3.21 a share, with sales of $24.5 billion. Analysts are projecting earnings of $3 a share and sales of $24.4 billion. For 2006, the company continues to anticipate earnings of $3.25 to $3.45 a share, which includes a host of one-time gains and expenses. Analysts are projecting earnings of $3.25 a share. Shares were trading up $1.45 to $50.64. Shares of Draxis Health ( DRAX) rose 2% after the company's new drug application for diagnostic sodium iodide I-131 capsules received Food and Drug Administration approval. The capsules are used by physicians to evaluate thyroid function prior to administering treatment for stronger therapeutic doses of sodium iodide I-131. The company plans to introduce the new capsules into the U.S. market during the first half of 2006. Shares were trading up 9 cents to $4.42.
Nutrition 21 ( NXXI) soared 62% after the company received a purchase order from Rite Aid ( RAD) for the company's Chromax chromium picolinate product. The product will be distributed to more than 3,400 Rite Aid stores and mark the first time that Nutrition 21's Chromax product will be available in retail stores. "Our direct distribution strategy is on schedule," the company said in a statement. "The Rite Aid commitment is a significant initial step in our transition from primarily a wholesale ingredients supplier to also a supplier of branded finished goods." Shares were trading up 43 cents to $1.12. Other health care volume movers included Pfizer ( PFE), down 6 cents to $24.52; Guidant ( GDT), up 50 cents to $70.90; Elan ( ELN), down 17 cents to $16.02; Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY), down 16 cents to $22.30; Nektar Therapeutic ( NKTR), up $1.79 to $19.90; UnitedHealth Group ( UNH), down $2.12 to $60.41; Boston Scientific ( BSX), up 3 cents to $25.08; Amgen ( AMGN), up 55 cents to $77.75; Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), down 64 cents to $61.57; Merck ( MRK), up 11 cents to $33.59; and Schering-Plough ( SGP), down 22 cents to $20.11.