Scotia to take off with cancer drug


LAY investors are at the mercy of their own ignorance when it comes to high-tech stocks. After all, what do most of us know about the next generation of computer chips, or the latest research into heart disease?

Nevertheless, it is in these areas where the next wonder stock is likely to be found. Inevitably though, with the higher reward, comes greater risk. Before it turned to the generic drugs market, Medeva was a small research start-up, with its hopes pinned on Contracan, a potential treatment for Aids and cancer. The scientists on the project all believed in it, but where is it now? Certainly not on prescription in hospitals.

With that caveat, Scotia Holdings this week announced further progress on its cancer compound EF13. Scotia has shown it limits the spread of cancer to distant cells - usually the killer blow of the disease.

But these tests have only been carried out in vitro on human tissue - they have yet to finish trials on patients with various cancers. However, EF13 has already achieved encouraging trial results on patients with pancreatic cancer, and the City thinks the latest news can only boost EF13's claims.

The odds on Scotia delivering a product to market are improving all the time. Although the shares have motored ahead in the last few months, there will be considerably more upside as and when the company can confirm one of its products is a commercial prospect. It should only be a matter of time, and the trick is to buy into the stock before the price gets ahead of itself. If you enjoy some risk, buy now, before the price of 645p loses touch with reality, and heads for the stratosphere.

FREEPORT Leisure, a revitalised shell stock, has announced plans for a one-for-one rights issue, to raise about pounds 9.5m.

Freeport says the deal is needed for working capital, and to accelerate development of its out-of-town shopping centres. At the time of the final results, however, net debt had risen to pounds 2.9m, and looking ahead, earnings could be lower than the market has forecast. Ignore the rights.

LOSSES look likely to continue this year at On Demand Information, an information technology publishing and multimedia business. But although the shares have had a shaky ride over the last year, down to 75p now from over 115p, the company is still producing the goods, as far as ideas and tie-ups are concerned.

As well as links to heavyweights such as BT, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, it has recently announced a 3-D computer tool for a high street chain to allow customers to design their own kitchens. Plenty of recovery potential here, and stockbroker Charles Stanley rates it a speculative buy.

ATREUS has leapt 9p to 23.75p since former Spring Ram boss Bill Rooney's arrival at the company last December.

Atreus is his vehicle to re-establish his credentials after being ousted from Spring Ram, once a darling of the City, following a plunge into losses and liberal accounting practices. Atreus is likewise in the home improvements game; the big question is: can Rooney and team repeat the success of Spring Ram? And will they learn from their mistakes?

So far the board seems to have taken the right steps. But the shares trade on a hefty prospective earnings multiple of 73. However, that is on the expectation that Mr Rooney can turn around last year's pounds 1m loss - much of which came from restructuring charges - into a slim pounds 400,000 profit. It should not prove too much of a challenge. Despite recent gains, the shares remain a buy. Expect a roller-coaster ride.

BSkyB has had a good run since Pearson revealed last June it was selling its stake of just under 9.7 per cent in the satellite broadcaster for pounds 550m. Results last week were good, but the rating on the shares (392p) remains expensive. Now is a good time to take profits, following the recent strong run. There are also fears that company will fail to make the same inroads into rugby union as it has done with football and cricket. Sell.

A FEW weeks ago, we reported on the imminent flotation of Pioneer Goldfields, recommending the shares as a buy. But bad timing has scuppered the deal, at least for the time being. Its main business, a gold mine in Ghana, is sound, and the postponement is more to do with investor apathy, than any fault of the company.

A mixture of new issue indigestion, especially new mining issues, and weakness in the FT Gold Mines index are to blame. For example, last year mining companies raised a total of $10bn (pounds 6.3bn) from the markets. This year, the market has only had the stomach for $3.5bn. The FT Gold Mines index has fallen 15 per cent from when Pioneer's offer was announced in October, but any future offer should remain attractive.

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