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A bright start

After the long bank holiday weekend, the market started the week on a bright note with the FTSE 100 index pushing through the 5,900 mark on the back of Wall Street climbing to a three-month high

After the long bank holiday weekend, the market started the week on a bright note with the FTSE 100 index pushing through the 5,900 mark on the back of Wall Street climbing to a three-month high.

Trading volumes continue on the low side with many traders and investors enjoying the last days of their summer holidays. Some pundits think that the direction of the market for the rest of the year will become clearer once everyone is back at their desks. In the meantime, the latest batch of US economic data indicates that no further interest rate rises are needed, while lower oil prices also helped provide support for the market.

GSK R&D collaboration
British pharma group GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was little changed despite a couple of positive developments. The group has formed a strategic alliance with US-based ChemoCentryx to develop and market treatments for various inflammatory disorders in a licensing deal that could be worth up to $1.5bn in payments to this biotechnology group. ChemoCentryx is to receive an upfront $63.5m payment comprising both cash and an equity investment in terms of the deal.

GSK announced that it had received approval from EU regulators for use of Relenza, its influenza treatment for patients aged 5 years and above. Relenza is already approved in Europe for treatment of influenza in patients aged 12 years and above.

According to an interview published in the German media, Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive of GSK, predicted that only a handful of the top 15 pharma groups in the world will probably survive. Hardly any of the large companies are in a position right now to invest enough money into research. A medium-sized company will hardly be able to spend enough on R&D, he said. A number of these giants spend too much on advertising and marketing at the expense of R&D, he added.

This suggests that if Garnier's view is right, then a significant number are highly likely to land up merging with other giant or medium-sized companies. This year, the market has at times been awash with talk that AstraZeneca (AZ) is likely to be a takeover candidate, with speculation occasionally focusing on GSK as a possible predator. Interestingly, last week AZ managed to outperform the market by a healthy margin but, almost certainly, this was because the share's investment merits are currently being viewed favourably by investors.

Shire NDA boosts share price
Shire Pharmaceuticals moved higher, boosted by news that it has submitted a new drug application to the US regulatory authorities for its investigational compound, guanfacine extended release. Shire has proposed the trade name Connexyn for the product, which if approved would be the first once-daily selective alpha-2A-adrenoceptor agonist for the treatment of attention deficit disorder (ADHD) in children aged 6 to 17 years. The application is subject to a 10-month FDA review period.

Positive Trinan phase II results
Ark Therapeutics' share price shone after revealing positive phase II results for its gene therapy treatment Trinam. This drug aims to prevent blood vessels blocking in kidney dialysis patients who have undergone vascular access graft surgery. Ark chief executive Nigel Parker said that the results have exceeded the company's expectations and confirm our original enthusiasm for the product's potential. Following the latest positive research update news, analyst Elizabeth Klein at Bridgewell raised her recommendation on the stock from neutral to overweight.

GW in upward swing
GW Pharmaceuticals, the maker of drugs derived from cannabis, continued the strong rise over the past few weeks to hit the 100p mark, more than 50 percent up, albeit from a recent low. Traders and investors looked to be taking positions in this volatile stock ahead of the release of two important phase III trial results expected in the fourth quarter. There was also some speculation that an institutional investor looking to form a decent holding in GW was snapping up its shares. But a sharp decline in the share price on Tuesday morning suggests that this speculation is false.

Trovax rumours fuel Oxford BioMedica surge
Oxford BioMedica surged after unconfirmed speculation that the gene therapy group had presented fresh data on Trovax, its cancer drug, for which the group is starting to recruit patients into a final phase III kidney cancer trial. There is speculation that the group will shortly find a partner to help develop this drug.

Antisoma down despite phase I enrollment for AS1409
Shares in biotech, Antisoma, that enjoyed a good rise on the back of recently divulged talks with potential partners for a cancer drug, were noticeably easier. News that its phase I trial of AS1409, a targeted treatment for tumours, will enroll patients with renal cancer and melanoma as high levels of the drug's target are found in these cancers, surprisingly sent the share price down further. Chief executive, Glyn Edwards said: AS1409 is an exciting prospect and we're pleased to have taken another step closer to the clinic with a rational choice of cancer indications for our forthcoming phase I trial.

2nd September 2008

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