Biotech Stocks to Watch in 2014: Check Out Today's Biggest Movers

Biotech stocks have delivered a healthy dose of returns to investors year to date. The iShares Nasdaq Biotech Index ETF (Nasdaq: IBB) is up a whopping 65% so far in 2014.

That follows a 60%-plus return last year, far outpacing the 30% gain of the broader market. Some 81 biotech companies saw share prices more than double in 2013.

Micro-cap Chelsea Therapeutics Intl Inc. (Nasdaq: CHTP) shares soared 120% intraday on Jan. 15 in anticipation of an FDA approval of their drug Northera, a treatment for a rare form of low blood pressure. Wednesday, shares gained another 35% following the government agency's nod.

"It's a real biotech bull market," Karen Andersen, a biotech analyst at Morningstar, told USA Today. "There's a lot of optimism."

Additionally, the value of mergers and acquisitions of biotech companies climbed more than 20% last year to $131.8 billion.

Fueled by breakthrough treatments gaining faster regulatory approval for chronic ailments and deadly diseases, including hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and cancer, biotech stocks are poised for another stellar year in 2014.

Biotechs are also behind the best start to the year for IPOs since the dot-com era. Nearly half of this year's initial public offerings have been biotechs.

And look for more M&A activity in 2014. Just this week there was a $25 billion deal in the sector when Irish drugmaker Actavis PLC (NYSE: ACT) agreed to buy New York-based Forest Laboratories Inc. (NYSE: FRX).

"Big Pharma has clearly concluded that it's cheaper to buy than to build, so there's a big appetite for acquiring biotechs, and that's helped to bring the generalist investor into the biotech market," G. Steven Burrill, chief executive officer of San Francisco healthcare financial firm Burrill & Co, told the Boston Globe.

With biotech stocks among the biggest gainers in 2014, here are three of today's biggest gainers in the sector.

Biggest-Moving Biotech Stocks Today

Raptor Pharmaceutical Corp. (Nasdaq: RPTP) shares rose nearly 20%, hitting a 52-week high of $17.72 on heavy volume. The company announced top-line results for RP103, a potential treatment for Huntington's disease, that met primary endpoints in ongoing phase 2/3 clinical trials. An analysis of the 96 patients enrolled in the ongoing 3-year trial found all treated with RO103 showed positive trends towards slower progression of motor loss versus those on a placebo. In addition to RP103, the Novato, Calif.-headquartered company has a number of products in its clinical development pipeline. They include treatments for primary liver cancer and other liver disease and a treatment for breast cancer.

Synergy Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: SGYP) shares surged nearly 10%, reaching an intraday high of $5.99 on nearly four times its average daily volume Thursday. Hopes are the company's Chief Scientific Officer, Kunwar Shailubhai, will deliver some promising news when he presents a plenary lecture entitled "Cyclic GMP: Understanding its Evolution and Clinical Implications in Gastroenterology" Thursday night in New Orleans at the Southern Gut Club meeting. The lecture will discuss the potential of some therapeutic applications in a variety of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, the NY-based company's area of expertise. SGYP's Plecanatide is presently in phase 3 clinical trials for chronic constipation and a phase 2B study for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Its SP-333 is in phase 2 devolvement for opioid-induced constipation and is also being explored for ulcerative colitis. In January, Synergy announced its stock was transferred to the Nasdaq Global Select Market, the highest of three market tiers at Nasdaq, reserved for companies that meet the highest listing standards.

Antares Pharma Inc. (Nasdaq: ATRS), shares rose 3% to $4.85 intraday Thursday following news its Vibex QuickShot treatment for low testosterone showed positive results in a phase 2 trial. Investors are hopeful the treatment will soon be approved and become part of the growing U.S. testosterone replacement therapy market. Sales in this niche market were roughly $2.8 billion in 2013, with prescriptions growing 20%. Based in Ewing, N.J., Antares is a specialty pharmaceutical company with a focus on self-administered parenteral pharmaceutical products and topical gel-base medicines. The company has received marketing approval from the FDA for Otrexup, an injection treatment for adults with active rheumatoid arthritis, children with active polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and adults with serve recalcitrant psoriasis.

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