Crucell's Lovely RITA

ACC, ADA, AHA, ASCO, ICAD, TCT. That's just a handful of the acronyms and abbreviations for scientific and medical conferences that I've attended over the years. But this year I might be able to add RITA to my dance card. I'd never heard of her (it) before this morning when I got this press release from Crucell, which owns technology for faster, better, cheaper vaccine manufacturing.

Shares of the Dutch company are higher on the news of positive mid-stage test results for its experimental rabies vaccine. Sanofi-Aventis is a partner on the product. CRXL says researchers will present the detailed data at RITAthis fall. That'd be the "Rabies in the Americas" conference. Who knew there was such a thing? I can just see and hear it now: "I'm Mike Huckman live at 'The Rabies in the Americas' conference in Quebec and coming up next on CNBC...." The crest for RITA, by the way, cracks me up with the raccoon peering down at the dog and skunk.

Rabies in the Americas 2009
Rabies in the Americas 2009

Rabies deaths are almost unheardof in the U.S., but worldwide rabies kills tens of thousands of people each year, many of them in Asia. Still, an estimated 40,000 Americans annually have to get the expensive, time-consuming and potentially painful series of shots after they've been bitten by something rabid. Coincidentally, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control today recommended that people get just four instead of five post-exposure vaccine doses. The experts say four is enough to do the trick and that the move will help conserve vaccine which had supply issues in recent years. Sanofi and Novartis make those shots. Crucell says its vaccine, which the FDA has put on a fast track, could be used in combination with either of them.

Interestingly, CRXL shares have climbed back up to around the levels they hit early this year when the company announced it was talking to Wyeth about a buyout. That deal fell through when a short time later Pfizer announced it's buying Wyeth. But at least one analyst doesn't think that means CRXL has been left at the altar. In a research note to clients yesterday David Moskowitz at Caris & Company reiterated his "Buy" rating on the stock. Crucell, he said, "can be highly attractive to potential large-cap pharmaceutical suitors. We would not be surprised to see CRXL go out above $30 a share on a take out." And Moskowitz in a follow-up note today singles out the rabies vaccine partner SNY as a possible buyer. "This is an important product with sales potential of $300M-$400M annually, and CRXL retained strong economics (around) 40 percent of profits from SNY (a good reason for SNY to buy them out.)"

After all, big pharma has a rabid appetite for deals.


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