BioCryst Rally Warrants Trepidation

Shares of biotech firm BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (BCRX) have caught fire lately after worries over a potential Avian Flu pandemic have flooded media outlets. The stock is up 80 percent to $17.65 already this month and has tripled in the last three months, giving the company a market cap of nearly half a billion dollars.

To say this violent move to the upside is based on speculation would be a dramatic understatement. The excitement over BCRX comes from a flu vaccine that the company actually scrapped in 2002 after it failed late stage clinical trials. However, with Avian Flu worries running rampant, the company has decided to bring back the drug and test it on bird flu. Early indications show it might have some kind of positive effect, but it’s way too early to conclude the drug, Peramavir, would be successful in preventing the spread of Avian Flu.

Investors, though, haven’t really focused on the downside (an ineffective drug brought back into testing only to get shelved again), but rather only on what it could do, become heavily useable in case a pandemic of Avian Bird Flu does sweep the globe. What happens if Avian Bird Flu goes the way of SARS, and in several months we never hear of it again? Or what happens if BioCryst’s drug shows to not work, or not work any better than drugs that have already been approved by the FDA for the flu (TamiFlu from Gilead, for instance)?

There is no doubt that BCRX shares have momentum right now as individual retail investors gobble up shares while the media hypes the potential death toll from an Avian Flu pandemic. Such momentum could drive the stock higher in the short term, with $20 or $25 very feasible. However, for BCRX to maintain its current share price for the longer term, after the hype dies down, a lot of things need to go perfectly, most of which the company and investors can’t control. If that doesn’t happen, remember that BCRX was a $3 stock in April of this year.