The Ebola virus still sweeping across West Africa has already taken at least 1,350 lives and is costing the affected countries dearly. But on Wall Street, biotech companies such as Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. (TSE:TKM) (NASDAQ:TKMR) and NewLink Genetics Corp (NASDAQ: NLNK), which are currently working on Ebola research, have seen stock prices jump as investors bet on a possible cure for the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
The Vancouver-based Tekmira struck a $140 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense four years ago to develop its treatment, called TKM-Ebola. Now the drug has emerged as one of the leading candidates for possible experimental use.
The company’s stock price is up 147 percent since the beginning of 2014 and experienced a 62 percent spike between March 3 and March 11, when the outbreak first began.
Unlike other experimental treatments such as Mapp Pharmaceuticals’ ZMapp, which is currently being used, Tekmira’s treatment has already begun human trials. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put a “clinical hold” on the product in July, but earlier this month modified the designation to a “partial” hold, which may allow it to be used within the next few weeks.
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“This current outbreak underscores the critical need for effective therapeutic agents to treat the Ebola virus,” Tekmira’s CEO said earlier this month. “We recognize the heightened urgency of this situation, and are carefully evaluating options for use of our investigational drug within accepted clinical and regulatory protocols.”
Meanwhile, NewLink is an Ames, Iowa-based firm that has seen its stock price jump 34 percent in the past four weeks. Most of its products in development are meant to treat cancer, but earlier in August, a company subsidiary, BioProtection Systems Corporate, announced a $1 million contract with the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for research on an Ebola vaccine.
“There is an urgent need for a medical countermeasure against the deadly Ebola virus,” NewLink CEO Dr. Charles Link said, according to a company press release.