Now that the momentum players have bailed out of many anti-terrorism plays--taking their huge profits--the institutional investors are taking a serious look. One company that has caught their eye: Avant Immunotherapeutics (AVAN), whose stock spiked in early October when the anthrax scare began. Shares mounted from 2.71 on Sept. 17 to 5.15 on Oct. 12. Share price fell to 3.44 a week later but bounced back up to 4.24 on Oct. 23--after some large fund managers bought in. It has sinced eased to 4.04 on Oct. 24.
Causing the initial surge: A Defense Dept. contractor licensed its vaccine technology. It was assumed that the contractor, DynCorp, would use it to develop a vaccine against anthrax. Avant has developed oral vaccines against cholera and typhoid that have reached Phase II clinical trials. Its vaccines could be genetically engineered for use on anthrax by using the same technique that it uses on its anticholera vaccine, an Avant source says. An oral vaccine would be taken in a single dose "and acts very quickly," says Dr. Una Ryan, Avant's CEO. It has been tested on Army volunteers, with few or no harmful side effects, says one Avant insider. Dr. Mark Monane of investment firm Needham expects Avant to post sales of $3.5 million in 2001 and $4 million in 2002. He sees profits in 2003 of 26 cents a share, on sales of $11.2 million. By Gene G. Marcial