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A Ghost Of A Chance In Pancreatic Cancer

Patrick Swayze
AP
Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze is sadly a statistic.

He is one of an estimated 35,000 people in the United States who will die from pancreatic cancer this year.

Several companies are working on drugs for the disease, but the path is littered with failures.

Just last Friday partners Sanofi-Aventis and Regeneronannounced their late-stage experimental pancreatic cancer drugdidn't work. In the press release the companies acknowledged that pancreatic "is among the most intractable cancers. Clinical development of new therapies...has been generally characterized by a failure to achieve significant incremental clinical benefit over existing treatments."

One of the biopharma firms still trying to develop a treatment for pancreatic cancer is Abraxis BioScience. As an aside, it's one of the few publicly traded little drug companies headquartered in L.A., where Swayze died.

Biotech analyst Mike King, who used to be at Rodman & Renshaw and a few other firms before that, is continuing to plant the flag at his new employer Merriman Curhan Ford. This morning he initiated coverage of Abraxis with a "Buy" rating and a price target range of $30-$33. The stock is lightly traded because the founder owns an overwhelming majority of the shares. But the title of King's research note to clients grabbed my attention. "The Billion Dollar Cancer Company the Street Forgot," King calls it. He's referring to the fact that ABII shares have been cut more than in half over the past year.

And the yarn King uses to back up his bullishness on the battered stock (as the overall markets have rallied since the spring, ABII shares have fallen from $53 last April to $27 yesterday) is pretty colorful. "Given the drama in the company's past, why would we in good conscience recommend the purchase of ABII shares at this point in time? Two words" 'value' and 'change,' " he writes. "In the biotechnology space," King continues, "there are companies that are controversial, and then there are companies that are controversial. We would submit that Abraxis BioScience falls into the latter category." LOL!

The most well-known surviving fighter of pancreatic cancer is Apple's Steve Jobs. An estimated 42,000 others in the U.S. will receive the diagnosis this year. The disease spreads quickly and is often caught too late.

While it's tough to top Swayze's infamous "Dirty Dancing" line, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" for campiness, my favorite Swayze flick has to be "Ghost." Of course, the science will guide progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer, but perhaps Swayze's spirit can play a role.

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Disclosure: MCF makes a market in ABII and it would like to do investment banking for the company

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman