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Good Medicine at Avant

Why would Pfizer, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, or Novartis be interested in obscure Avant Immunotherapeutics (AVAN)? Answer: products in trial that target multibillion-dollar markets--cholesterol management, cardiac surgery, and vaccines for cholera and typhoid.

Avant is in talks for a partner in cholesterol management, and it could be Pfizer, Merck, or Bristol-Myers. Avant has a novel vaccine in Phase 2 trials that seeks to raise the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good cholesterol. Low levels of HDL are associated with greater risk for atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which leads to heart disease and strokes. This vaccine alone targets a $4 billion market, says a money manager who owns some 3% of Avant. The company expects the vaccine to be on the market by 2006. In cardiac surgery, Avant's lead compound, TP-10, now in Phase 3 clinical trials, treats injury that occurs during surgery. Avant has received fast-track-approval status from the Food & Drug Administration for the use of TP-10 in infants undergoing surgery. Avant has a deal with Novartis to develop TP-10, due out by 2006, with a potential market of $1 billion.

Mark Monane of investment firm Needham rates Avant, now trading at 5, a "strong buy," based on its products that "address large market opportunities for which current therapies are inadequate." His 12-month price target: 10. By Gene G. Marcial

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