Swine Flu Spurs Investor Interest in San Diego Biomedical Firms

9/21/09

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the official start of the pandemic in June and have doubled since April, when the virus first broke out in Mexico. But according to two scientific reports summarized here, rapid tests detect no more than half the swine flu infections picked up by slower tests; Quidel claims a higher detection rate than found in those studies. So far, accuracy concerns haven’t impacted sales, which are expected to set a new quarterly record.

—Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE), a biological tools company, posted $15 million second-quarter revenue from sales to public health laboratories of equipment and reagents for swine flu testing—about two percent of the company’s total revenue of $832.8 million for the period.

life_technologies_logo Life’s equipment runs a diagnostic test developed and distributed by the CDC that can be used to determine if patients who are positive for influenza A virus on commercial tests are infected with the specific influenza A virus that causes swine flu. Life Technologies said in May that it had established a ‘round-the-clock task force to respond to requests for equipment, service, and support from public health agencies around the globe. But the company cautioned during its quarterly earnings call on July 28 that the sales rush may be over. President Mark Stevenson said the company expected additional swine flu-related revenue during the second half of the year, but not at the pace seen in the second quarter. With the heavy equipment now in place at many public health labs, Stevenson says future sales will come from reagents and products needed to run the CDC test. That equipment-buying frenzy was nice while it lasted: Swine flu-related sales accounted for all of the company’s revenue gains in the second quarter. Life Technology’s shares have risen 19 percent since mid-June.

—Inovio Biomedical (AMEX: INO) also grabbed investor attention in July when it announced that its universal DNA-based vaccine protected pigs and mice that had been exposed to the swine flu virus.

Inovio logo The vaccine contains bits of DNA that encode for surface proteins from the flu strains that account for the majority of seasonal and pandemic influenza. The report suggested Inovio might be on to something; in a previous study, 100 percent of vaccinated mice exposed to the H5N1 avian flu virus survived, although the animals experienced minor weight loss. The company’s share price, although deep in penny stock territory, has more than doubled since June. Still, the likelihood of seeing an Inovio swine flu vaccine at a flu clinic near you this winter is… zero. That’s because … Next Page »

Denise Gellene is a former Los Angeles Times science writer and regular contributor to Xconomy. You can reach her at dgellene@xconomy.com Follow @

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