Regulatory approvals, deals and analyst downgrades gave rise and decline to a few biotech stocks on a relatively flat, yet more encouraging, day for the health sector.Sciele Pharma ( SCRX) gained $3.11, or 15.7%, on news that the Food and Drug Administration approved all four dose strengths of its new Sular formulation for high blood pressure. The formulation uses SkyePharma's Geomatrix technology to provide a lower dose of the drug for each of its already available doses. The company will launch the new formulations in the first quarter. Also, biological testing technology company Luminex ( LMNX) rose Thursday afternoon after the company announced it received FDA approval for its xTAG Respiratory Viral Panel, a test for respiratory viruses such as influenza and adenovirus. The test identifies 12 viruses and viral subtypes are cumulatively responsible for more than 85% of respiratory viral infections. The company said the swab test, which has already received regulatory approval in Europe, is now available for diagnostic use in the U.S. through Luminex and Fisher HealthCare, a unit of Thermo Fisher Scientific ( TMO). Luminex tacked on $1.04, or 6.4%, to $17.27, and Thermo Fisher Scientific was trading up $1.20, or 2.2%, at $57. Also on the uptick, Netherlands-based biotechnology company Crucell ( CRXL) announced a commercialization agreement with the vaccines division of Sanofi Aventis ( SNY), sanofi pasteur. The collaboration and agreement cover Crucell's monoclonal antibodies to be used for rabies vaccines. The company expects to enter phase II clinical trials in the first half of 2008.
Crucell will develop and manufacture the product with exclusive distribution rights in Europe and shared rights in China. The company will receive about $14.7 million upfront and milestone payments of up to $97.98 million. Peak sales for the antibody cocktail are expected to surpass $300 million, according to the company. Crucell's shares climbed $2.27, or 13.6%, to $18.98, while Sanofi Aventis was trading down 44 cents, or 0.9%, at $45.23. Another deal trekked along as Celgene ( CELG) and Pharmion ( PHRM) said that the waiting period for Celgene's acquisition of Pharmion has expired without the United States Federal Trade Commission requesting additional information and they expect the transaction to close in April. Pharmion was trading up $2.47, or 4%, at $65.07, while Celgene rose $2.76, or 5.9%, to $49.03 on Thursday. Both stocks are components of the Nasdaq biotechnology index, which was up 4.66, or 0.6%, at 836.64. And elsewhere, analyst takes led a few stocks to decline. OSI Pharmaceuticals ( OSIP) gave up ground after Lehman Brothers analyst Jim Birchenough downgraded the stock to equal weight from overweight. Among other things, Birchenough noted the 34% growth the stock saw in the second half of 2007, aside declining U.S. sales of OSI's cancer drug Tarceva and the continued risk of data from head-to-head study with Astra Zeneca's ( AZN) Zactima due out mid-2008. Shares fell $2.26, or 5%, to $44.78.
Meanwhile, Wachovia analyst George Farmer downgraded Vertex Pharmaceuticals ( VRTX) to underperform from market perform, noting that the need to conduct new trials could delay the launch of Vertex's Hepatitis C drug telaprevir to 2012. Shares declined $1.65, or 7.1%, to $21.50.