The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Shire and Halliburton

CHICAGO, March 20, 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 Novartis (NYSE: NVS), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Sanofi (NYSE: SNY), Shire plc (Nasdaq: SHPG) and Halliburton Company (NYSE: HAL).

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Here are highlights from Tuesday's Analyst Blog:

Good News for Novartis Candidate

Novartis (NYSE: NVS) recently announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rendered Breakthrough Therapy designation to its pipeline candidate LDK378.

The Breakthrough Therapy designation includes all the features involved in a fast track program in addition to a more intensive FDA guidance. This designation from the FDA expedites the development and review of drugs for the treatment of life-threatening diseases provided the therapy is able to show substantial improvement over an available therapy on at least one clinically significant endpoint.

Novartis is developing LDK378 for the treatment of patients with anaplastic lymphoma kinase positive (ALK+) metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). These patients were intolerant to Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE) crizotinib.

The phase I study of LDK378 demonstrates preliminary clinical response in ALK+ NSCLC patients who were previously treated with crizotinib.

Subsequently, Novartis initiated two phase II studies to further evaluate the compound. The company intends to commence several phase III studies on the candidate for the above indication later in 2013. The first regulatory filing is anticipated by early 2014.

A prevalent form of lung cancer, NSCLC affects 85%–90% of all lung cancer patients. We note that Sandoz, the generic arm of Novartis, launched Docetaxel in the US in 2011, a generic version of Sanofi's (NYSE: SNY) Taxotere  which is indicated for breast, ovarian and NSCLC.

Earlier in the month, the European Commission (EC) approved Novartis' llaris (canakinumab, ACZ885) for an additional indication. The EC cleared llaris for treating adults suffering from gouty arthritis (gout) - a serious, chronic and progressive inflammatory disease.

Ilaris is already approved for treating children and adults suffering from cryopyrin associated periodic syndrome (CAPS) in the EU, US, Switzerland and Japan.

However, the approval process of Ilaris in the US has been bumpy. In Aug 2011, Novartis received a Complete Response Letter (CRL) from the FDA asking for additional information to evaluate the risk benefit profile in refractory gout patients. Novartis continues to work with the FDA to determine the next steps for llaris in the gout indication.

Novartis carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Right now, Shire plc (Nasdaq: SHPG) looks attractive with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

Halliburton Facility in Singapore

Leading oilfield service provider Halliburton Company (NYSE: HAL) recently opened its newly built Completion Technology and Manufacturing Center in Singapore. This expansion will help Halliburton in delivering high-quality products to a wide range of customers in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The completion technology of Halliburton provides the design, selection and provision of equipment and services to optimize well production. As a result, it facilitates customers to complete their wells economically.

The newly constructed facility is spread across 43 acres in Jurong Industrial Park. It includes more than 500,000 square feet of manufacturing and administrative space. Technology laboratories and test facilities are also present in the center, which houses complex processes such as high-alloy material precision machining, electrode discharge machines, small deep-hole gun drilling and fully automated high-pressure testing.

The second development phase is underway. This phase comprises the construction of technology administration building, workshops, deep-well simulators and high-pressure/high-temperature testing facilities. It also includes the completion of a deep horizontal well which will enable all aspects of engineering testing and simulated systems integration testing.

With the success of the current manufacturing facility in Singapore, Halliburton is on an expansion path. It looks forward to more such opportunities to gain a significant market share internationally. We believe such accomplishments will garner profits for Halliburton in the upcoming quarters.

Halliburton carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold), implying that it is expected to perform in line with the broader U.S. equity market over the next one to three months.

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