Sector Watch: Those Darn Biotechs Still Making Headlines

Biotechnology stocks are one of the most volatile areas on Wall Street. So far this 2001, the American Stock Exchange Biotechnology Index has hit a high of 665.3 and a low of 480, a 185 point swing. Pop some Dramamine, because the biotechs aren't settling down any time soon.

The Amex biotech index continued to slide today, falling 2.9%, as many of the bigger names in the index topped the list of Nasdaq's top losers.

Recent news from the biotechs has been disquieting. Yesterday, Seattle Genetics, a biotech drug firm backed by Microsoft ( MSFT) founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates, lowered the price range on its initial public offering for the second time.

It illustrates the popularity of the biotechs that Seattle plans to go ahead with the offering despite the current tough market environment. Then again, it could be a sign that the market is crowded with biotech and that the sector's popularity could be waning.

And two days ago, COR Therapeutics ( CORR) lowered its first-quarter guidance, citing slow sales.

The Not-So Magnificent Seven
Company Price at 2 p.m. ET Point Change % Change
Affymetrix (AFFX) 51.44
4.63

8.3%
Biogen (BGEN) 65.75
2.38

3.5%
Millenium Pharmaceutical (MNLM) 31.44
1.94

5.8%
Myriad Genetics (MYGN) 47.56
5.25

10.0%
Protein Design Labs (PDLI) 50
3.38

6.3%
Sepracor (SEPR) 42**
3.44

7.5%
Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) 42.13
3

6.7%

** -- Sepracor also hit a 52-week low of $41.

Elsewhere in the "we make medicine to make you feel better" department, drugmakers were taking a hit today. The American Stock Exchange Pharmaceutical Index was lately down 2.9% as the index dropped heavily for the second straight day.

Two days ago, President Bush vowed to push his Medicare reform package through Congress -- a move that could impact drug companies, since the measure will include coverage for prescription medications. Currently, Medicare offers no prescription drug benefits. At the same time, news broke that Pfizer ( PFE) Chairman William Steere filed to sell $8.1 million in company stock, just a few months after he sold more than $6 million.

Skittish investors have left the safety of drugmakers in droves since then.

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