Golly, good news

A potpourri of not-so-random thoughts as we reflect on the year already one month old:

The last few weeks haven't been bad for biotech, with good data, good deals, and the biggest IPO since we can't remember when.

The BioCentury 100 Price Level is up 9 percent in the past two weeks. And the total market value of the 190 companies that comprise the Carson Life Sciences Index of companies with market caps below $500 million has gained $2 billion - to $12.9 billion - up 18 percent since bottoming out at the end of 1994.

For the first time in a year - maybe two - whole areas of biotech are looking interesting:

3TC and the protease inhibitors have revived the moribund AIDS area, reflected in the market value of the HIV/AIDS company group hovering above the pack of second and third-tier biotechs (see page A2 for chart).

• Gilead Science Inc.'s Vistide could lead the way to a new generation of antivirals.

Genzyme Corp.'s HAL hyaluronic acid products for surgical adhesions could repair the dreadful reputation of wound-healing projects: the company has said the results of its first set of studies are statistically significant, although no date for presentation of the data has been set.

• And, going back to the end of 1994, the approval of Centocor Inc.'s ReoPro both marks the success of a new class of cardiovascular drugs and resuscitates the potential of monoclonal antibodies.

As Hambrecht & Quist analyst Timothy Wilson puts it, the positive data so far this year should serve to "reset the balance" of clinical successes and failures that has led to such negative investor sentiment for the past few years.

What do they know

that the Street doesn't?

In like fashion, buysiders on the Street cannot help but notice that the buysiders at the pharmaceutical companies - who continue to throw big bucks at screening and genomics companies - are finding value in the biotech sector. The riveting premium paid for Affymax N.V. must cause investors to wonder whether they have lost track of the opportunities in this out-of-favor sector.