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Solid as a rock

The stock market enjoyed a decent rally to rise to its highest level in two months with the FTSE 100 briefly pushing through the 5,000 barrier.

RockThe stock market enjoyed a decent rally to rise to its highest level in two months with the FTSE 100 briefly pushing through the 5,000 barrier.

Worries about fragile consumer demand, and rising consumer bad debts, faded into the background as the view that interest rates have peaked gained strength, helping to propel the market higher. A stronger US equity market buoyed by the perception that the US economy is in better shape than feared also boosted the UK equity market.

A `Non' vote from the French on the EU constitution had virtually no effect on continental European equities, or any perceptible impact on the UK equity market on Tuesday morning after the long (bank holiday) weekend. Sterling and the dollar did appreciate against the euro.

Leading pharma groups continued to perform well. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is holding firm, close to its recent twelve month high, after several developments. The group is ready to break into the US flu vaccination market through seeking approval to market Fluarix this autumn.

Last year the US flu vaccination market was in crisis after British regulators shut down production at the UK manufacturing plant of Chiron, the vaccine maker. In the meantime, US regulatory authorities have given it the green light to market Coreg, a heart drug, for more general use.

GSK confirmed that it will consider bidding for the healthcare arm of Boots Healthcare International (BHI), which among other things manufacturers Neurofen painkillers. BHI's sale documents are expected to be divulged in July.

AstraZeneca was softer after stockbroker Nomura downgraded the stock from a buy to neutral, but the share subsequently more than recovered the lost ground when the overall market pushed ahead. Nomura has cut its sales forecast for Crestor, the cholesterol drug.

Among the FTSE pharma groups, Shire Pharmaceuticals was the best performer after New River, its partner in developing an experimental drug to treat attention deficit disorder, reported upbeat trials for this drug.

Shares in Elan, the Irish drug maker are in the limelight once again. On Thursday it was the top percentage gainer on the New York stock exchange, where its shares are quoted as well as on Irish and London stock markets, after the group made positive noises. Kelly Martin, Elan's chief executive, said at the AGM that the return to the market of Tysabri, its multiple sclerosis treatment, is a question of when? rather than if.

He predicted it would be back on the market soon after US regulatory authorities review the drug's safety data this summer.

Back to biotech
Shares in biotech firm Alizyme were softer despite the company's announcement that it successfully completed stage 1 of the Phase IIa clinical trial evaluating ATL-104 for the treatment of mucositis. Second stage results of the trial are expected by the end of this year.

Analyst Sav Neophytou, at stockbroker Seymour Pierce, thinks the share is a strong buy. He is particularly "positive" on its prospects for ATL-962, its obesity treatment under development.

GeneMedix warned that it has funding for just the next three months. Its share price, however, firmed as it also reported that it is currently in discussions with a number of parties in order to provide it with more cash.

BTG, the technology incubator which is facing continued delays in getting US approval for its Varisolve varicose vein treatment, reported widening losses per share for the year to end-March. The company said it was now focusing on buying, developing and commercialising medical innovations as it strove to get back on to a profitable footing.

Shares in pharmaceutical group BioProgress lost more than 10 per cent of their value after a strategic and financial review showed that some of its partnership arrangements were not in line with the development of its technology base.

On the new listings front, ProStrakan, a Scotland-based pharma company which is seeking a listing, has had its indicative valuation cut back sharply to between £160m and £190m by its advisers Morgan Stanley.

2nd September 2008


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