2014

The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Bayer, Novartis, Pfizer, Actelion and Abbott Labs

CHICAGO, Aug. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include the Bayer (OTC:BAYRY-Free Report), Novartis (NYSE: NVS-Free Report), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE-Free Report), Actelion Ltd. (OTC:ALIOF-Free Report) and Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT-Free Report).

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Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

Here are highlights from Wednesday's Analyst Blog:

Good News for Bayer from Japan

The HealthCare segment of Bayer (OTC:BAYRY-Free Report) recently announced that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan approved Stivarga for the treatment of patients suffering from gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) who have progressed following prior systemic cancer therapy.

The drug's approval was based on positive results from Bayer's phase III GRID (GIST – Regorafenib In Progressive Disease) study. Bayer enrolled 199 patients for the study suffering from metastatic and/or unresectable GIST and whose disease has progressed in spite of being previously treated with Novartis' (NYSE: NVS-Free Report) Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) and Pfizer Inc.'s (NYSE: PFE-Free Report) Sutent (sunitinib malate).

Results from the study revealed that patients treated with Stivarga showed a statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival (PFS) in comparison to patients under placebo. Stivarga is also approved in the U.S. for the GIST indication.

We note that this is Stivarga's second approval in Japan. In Mar 2013, the drug was approved for the treatment of patients suffering from unresectable, advanced/recurrent colorectal cancer (CRC).

Stivarga is already approved in the U.S. for treating patients suffering from metastatic CRC (mCRC), whose disease has progressed even after treatment with standard drugs. Bayer is also seeking EU approval of Stivarga for the treatment of mCRC. In Jul 2013, Bayer received a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the approval of Stivarga in the mCRC indication.

A final decision from the EU regulatory authorities on the approval of Stivarga is expected by Dec 31, 2013. We note that though the European Commission is not bound to follow the CHMP's decision, it generally does so. We believe that further market expansion will boost the drug's sales potential.

Bayer presently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). However, other pharma stocks, such as Actelion Ltd. (OTC:ALIOF-Free Report), currently look better positioned with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

Abbott Acquires OptiMedica

Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT-Free Report) recently announced that it has completed the previously announced acquisition of privately-held OptiMedica Corporation for $250 million in cash.

The acquisition was announced in Jul 2013. This acquisition should expand Abbott Labs' vision care business into the femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery market.

OptiMedica's Catalys Precision Laser System carries a CE mark in the EU and has been approved in the U.S. as well. This laser system replaces certain manual steps in cataract surgery with precise, image-guided, femtosecond laser technology.

Hence, the acquisition will further boost the cataract surgery business at Abbott Labs' which currently account for 60% of total sales of the vision care business.

Abbott Labs's vision care business was up 2% in the second quarter of 2013 driven by solid cataract sales attributed to strong double-digit growth in the emerging markets and Tecnis of intraocular lenses (IOL).

Abbott Labs expects further growth in its cataract business to be driven by several important new product launches in 2013.

Key launches include Tecnis OptiBlue in Japan providing access to the largest segment of the Japanese market and Tecnis Toric in the U.S. enabling Abbott Labs to enter the faster growing premium segment of the IOL market.

Further, Abbott Labs expects to launch Tecnis Preloaded IOL in the U.S. in the second half of 2013 which should propel growth.

Hence, Abbott Labs expects mid-single digit growth (excluding currency translation impact) in the third quarter of 2013 driven by traction in the cataract surgery business.

We are impressed by Abbott Lab's efforts to drive growth in its promising vision care business.

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