Shares of Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ACOR) absolutely skyrocketed Monday, by more than 280% by day's end, after the company announced that its Multiple Sclerosis drug Fampridine-SR significantly increased walking speed in MS patients compared to those taking a placebo.
MS is a debilitating neural condition where the protective myelin sheath surrounding neurons, the cells of the nervous system, degenerates and limits the neural network responsible for control of movement.
While the science is exciting and full of potential, it is the financial surprise that has taken center stage. How could a stock almost quadruple in price in just one day's trading? Wouldn't it suggest that Wall Street tremendously missed the boat on this one? And if so, how could a whole bunch of industry analysts who follow clinical trials like teenagers pumping up a penny stock get caught by surprise?
There are a lot of questions that need answers, but let us start with this one: why has Acorda's share price been sliding over the last year? In fact, it was at an all-time low on Friday, the very last day of trading before the big news hit.
It seems Acorda has left a bad taste in the hungry mouths of investors from a couple of earlier setbacks. An earlier MS phase 2 trial showed poor results, while another phase 3 trial for spinal cord injuries had failed. Poor results and disappointments do not sit well with biotech investors. They are a sensitive bunch, quick to find another biotech stock du jour.
In addition, Pantheon International had begun selling off a large chunk of shares in Acorda over the last week of August. It seemed as if this company's stock was headed to the land of no return. This land is currently being occupied by such former biotech stars as Alteon (NYSEARCA:ALT), Advanced Tissue Sciences (ATISZ), and Genta (OTC:GNTA). Genta has, however, had some good news lately as a group of institutional investors placed $16 million in company stock, no doubt expecting a positive review by an FDA panel in October.
Looking at the former stars mentioned above one can see a pattern. Great hype, coupled with decent early clinical trials, and eventually fizzled down as late stage results disappointed and the ever restless biotech investors jumped overboard.
So what was so different with Acorda that the trend was broken on Monday? Data re-analyzation of course! Acorda took another look at its clinical trial data, sliced and diced and came up with a surprising conclusion: the data looks good! It was a conclusion that surprised not only analysts and institutional investors, but also the company itself.
If the company's own scientists cannot accurately predict the outcome of trial results, or at least have some sort of idea as to whether the numbers would look positive or grim, then how can any investor justify placing hard earned money into the venture?
I pick on Acorda of course, but this is a common theme in biotechnology investing. It is a rarity to hit upon a diamond stock, the one which grows from a few scientists to a multi-billion dollar behemoth, even with sound and diligent research.
The very fact that shares of Acorda skyrocketed today proves investing in biotech is a volatile, unpredictable, and dangerous game. Why invest in phase 1 trials, when you can invest in phase 2? Why phase 2 when you can be only one step away in phase 3? And why invest in phase 3 when the final approval and marketing of a drug can still significantly bring great riches to a company and its investors?
What if the FDA calls for one further trial for Acorda's Fampridine-SR, or worse still, does not like the data, then what? I would hate to even imagine the result of such news.
Why not wait till the FDA gives its blessing, and the company ships its first boxes of Fampridine-SR before placing your hard earned money on the table?
Or how about an even more outrageous idea: try to invest in a company that has made a profit!