Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pandemic Flu: Opportunities and Opportunism

Just in case you hadn’t noticed by now, swine flu is not just a public health threat, it’s also a business opportunity.

Now that can be a legitimate business opportunity – for example, companies like Roche, with its antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir), and GlaxoSmithKline, with its Relenza (zanamivir), have already capitalized through the stockpiling of their products in preparation for pandemic flu. After this weekend’s spread of the swine flu news, on Monday both manufacturers made public their efforts to provide more supply for the swine flu outbreak, and to make clear that they can ramp up production (as the WSJ reports).

Although those are the only products approved at the moment that can be of assistance for the outbreak, other manufacturers are jumping on the opportunity to start developing a H1N1 vaccine. Novartis and Baxter are each reportedly working with the World Health Organization to get samples of the swine flu strain and start on vaccines, which will take probably in the neighborhood of six months. Other companies are getting a warm embrace from the market because of the recognition of the potential for their technologies to be harnessed for swine flu (or just because of the newfound appreciation of the value of vaccine technology), such as Novavax and BioCryst.

Novavax shares were up a whopping 150% or so before closing up (merely) 80% on the day, at $2.55. Only four weeks ago Novavax raised a $11 million, a needed "capital infusion" from the sale of shares at $0.88. BioCryst jumped too, ending the day up about 75%, at $3.88. Neither of these companies falls into the category of "troubled biotechs," (BioCryst even reported net income last year--how very un-biotechlike) though it would seem logical for either company to raise money while raisin' is good. If that isn't too unseemly.

Other technology companies hoping to ride the wave that Novavax and BioCryst have caught include Vical (hey, check out our technology too!, says today's release--Vical shares rose yesterday, but only a more pedestrian 6.7%.).

But then there’s also a cadre of companies playing up the ability of their goods and services to meet the needs of the swine flu situation that don’t exactly seem in the spirit of helping out in a public health threat – let’s call them the opportunists. Here are some of IVB’s current favorites, please let us hear about your own faves in the comments.

  • Coming out of the “steer clear of swine” field is Capsuline, a kosher-friendly gelatin capsule manufacturer that acknowledges it “is strangely benefiting” from the porcine flu outbreak. “Whether warranted or not, the Porcine Flu outbreak gives a bad rap to all pork-based products,” the Pompano Beach, Florida-based firm’s April 27 press release notes. Capsuline’s hard gelatin capsules are bovine, not porcine-based. Since the news of the swine flu situation broke, the company has seen a 300% increase in call volume. That’s a welcome respite for a company that usually has more to fear from mad cow concerns – fear of bovine spongiform encephalopathy has had a dampening effect on gelatin products in the past. Of course, Capsuline may be out at the forefront of the pig-product backlash because of their past experience being on the other side.

  • Another blog favorite is Cannabis Science, “an emerging pharmaceutical cannabis company” that rushed out with a press release on its whole-cannabis lozenge. We’re not entirely clear on the relevance – something about the endocannabinoid system and hyper-inflammatory responses triggered by influenza. Citing preliminary anecdotal results about the anti-inflammatory properties of their lozenges, Cannabis Science suggests the whole-cannabis lozenges could present an effective and non-toxic treatment for minimizing the symptoms and harm from influenza infections. And, they note, because there is “no time for the usual bureaucratic process,” they could legally access the supply of medical marijuana available in California “to produce millions of life saving doses within a relatively short period of time.” The press release, sent out at 8:41 a.m. EDT on April 27, does include a caution that while the beneficial pharmacological agents are present in marijuana, smoking it will not effectively prevent the excessive inflammatory response, and, in fact, may make things worse.
Maybe In Vivo blog should just seize this as a public service announcement opportunity to say if you have been afflicted with swine flu, don’t smoke pot. --Mary Jo Laffler

photo by invivoblog.


Anonymous said...

Aussie biotech Biota (relenza originator) gained 82%

manny paul said...

The virus is likely to become less virulent the faster it is transmitted, writes Ian Sample, but in the short term the more people....
Latest developments on swine flu worldwide

rsteeb said...

Dr Malamede warns against smoking the herb if you're sick with the flu!

Until the lozenges become widely available, an alcohol tincture or butter extract of cannabis can be used to help alleviate the flu's inflammation of the lungs.

Or maybe just bake up some Alice B Toklas brownies!

-Richard Steeb, San Jose California