Big pharma heats up with high performance for drugs, earnings

The pharmaceutical sector was on fire Monday, with successful trials, FDA approvals, and some deal action. So far, Tuesday is shaping up to be similar.

Big pharma takes its hits for questionable practices. But on days like these, we remember the enormous value and contributions that drug companies have on our lives, pushing forward with research, development, and innovation. And it's days like these that remind us why so many of us like investing in the sector.
Here are a few examples from the past two days:
  • On Monday, Amgen (AMGN) announced the results of a late-stage study for its bone drug (compound name: denomusab), which tested better than Novartis AG (NVS)'s Zometa in delaying skeletal disorders -- beating Amgen's goal of proving Denomusab's non-inferiority. Amgen shares closed 2.48 percent higher at $62.31.
  • On Tuesday, researchers also said Amgen's colon cancer drug Vectibix, when used as a second-line treatment, helped patients live longer and halted progression of the disease.
  • Bayer AG (BAYRY)'s and Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX)'s drug Nexavar helped stave off progression of breast tumors, according to a study released Monday. Onyx shares closed 2.6 percent higher.
  • Also on Monday, a study showed Roche (RHHBY)'s Avastin helps to extend the lives of patients with melanoma, which is very difficult to treat, and may improve the daily lives of brain-cancer patients.
  • Impax Laboratories (IPXL)'s experimental drug for treating late-stage Parkinson's disease showed positive results in a midstage trial, performing better than the current treatment from Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMY), Sinemet.
  • On Tuesday, a study showed that breast-cancer patients who switched during treatment to Pfizer (PFE)'s Aromasin improved their chance of staying cancer-free for at least six years.
  • BSD Medical Corp. (BSDM) shares more than doubled Tuesday, on news of a late-stage study showing its heat treatment, used in conjunction with chemotherapy, helped patients stay alive and cancer-free for longer.
Then there was the Food and Drug Administration's approval Monday for Neuralstem (CUR) to begin the first human trial of a stem-cell therapy for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) -- a degenerative disease that leads to paralysis and death, with no effective therapy for treatment. Neuralstem shares closed over 11 percent higher, at $2.08.

And BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (BCRX) scored another $77 million from the U.S. to finish the late-stage testing of its promising anti-viral drug compound peramivir. On Tuesday, the government also tripled its H1N1 swine flu vaccine order from AstraZeneca (AZN)'s MeddImune.

There were deals, too. AstraZeneca said it will pay Nektar Therapuetics (NKTR) $125 million up-front to license two compounds. Nektar is eligible to receive about $1.4 billion in aggregate payments. NKTR shares soared Monday and are still at it today, up nearly 7 percent in early trading. And the Biogen Idec (BIIB) takeover attempt of Facet Biotech Corp. (FACT) turned hostile on Monday; Biogen is bidding $355 million after Facet rejected an identical offer.

The pharma sector certainly seems to be heating up. Perhaps the upcoming patent cliff has put a fire under the industry's feet. Whatever the cause, the public is seeing -- and benefiting from -- the results.

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