Meetings, Earnings, Markets Canceled Ahead of 'Frankenstorm'
By Catherine Shaffer
Pfizer Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. each postponed earnings reports until Tuesday due to disruptions in transit and other preparations for Hurricane Sandy, a tropical storm of unprecedented size and strength complicated by a number of other meteorological events, including a major winter storm and a landfall perfectly timed for high tide.
The massive storm will affect areas from North Carolina to coastal Maine, with landfall in or near Atlantic City, N.J.
The densely populated East Coast corridor in its crosshairs began hunkering down Monday in anticipation of 90-mph winds and storm surges up to 11 feet. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq halted all trading Monday, and in Washington, a meeting of the FDA's Risk Management Advisory Committee, slated to discuss hydrocodone-containing drugs was postponed.
Other firms such as Dendreon Corp., of Seattle, and MannKind Corp., of Valencia, Calif., also postponed their earnings calls once it became clear that business had screeched to a halt out east.
Cutting a swath through some of the most heavily developed industrial centers in the U.S., Hurricane Sandy was expected to steamroll countless biotech and pharma company facilities, including those belonging to Incyte Corp. and AstraZeneca plc, in Wilmington, Del., as well as Philadelphia-area companies like Actelion Pharmaceuticals Inc., Hemispherx Biopharma Inc., Tarsa Therapeutics Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co.'s subsidiary Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc., among others.
In 2011 , Hurricane Irene hit some of the same areas, causing more than $15 billion in damage. Experts have said Sandy is wider and stronger.
Wilmington has one of the nearest biotech clusters to the expected site of landfall. The national weather service issued a coastal flood warning for the tidal Delaware River and its tidal tributaries. The region also is expected to experience 4 inches to 10 inches of rainfall and high winds.
Agilent Technologies Inc. has responded by closing its largest facility, which is in Wilmington, as well as smaller offices in places like Newport, Del., Washington and Lexington, Mass. The offices will be closed "until we deem it is safe for our employees to return to those locations," Agilent spokesman Eric Endicott told BioWorld Today.
Agilent's Wilmington site includes limited manufacturing facilities, which Endicott said have a backup power source and off-site data backup.
Agilent manufactures tools for the life sciences industry, including instruments, reagents and electronics.
Noramco Inc. may have a bracing test of its preparedness in store. Its Wilmington manufacturing facility is located within the evacuation zone of the city, close to the tidal Christina River.
Noramco manufactures a number of active pharmaceutical ingredients for drugs, specializing in controlled substances. Its product list includes amphetamine-L-aspartate, dextroamphetamine-saccarate, codeine phosphate, hydromorphone HCl and oxycodone base.
Noramco spokesman Tim Smith told BioWorld Today, "We're following our business continuity plan. The facility is idle, and we have emergency response teams on call. We're not processing anything right now. We're battening down the hatches." Smith said the company is "not worried" about the effects of the storms. "We feel very sure of our preparedness. This won't impact the environment or cause any damage," he noted.
In nearby Philadelphia, companies like Hemispherx and Tarsa Therapeutics also may have to contend with coastal flooding, area flooding and high winds. Tide levels at Philadelphia are projected to be 9.5 feet to 10 feet above mean lower water, with up to 10 inches of rain and flooding on roadways.
Lilly's director of global corporate communications, Mark E. Taylor, said, "We have instructed Lilly employees affected by this storm, including our ImClone and Avid employees in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, as well as our sales force in the field, to take all necessary steps to ensure their own safety and the safety of their families. Employees have been encouraged to follow the directions of local law enforcement and emergency personnel."
The hurricane track is expected to curve inland after it makes landfall, which means that nearly every pharma or biotech company on the East Coast will have its turn with rain and wind. The weather service issued warnings from New York to Niagra Falls and beyond. Even Chicago has been put under a warning for Hurricane Sandy, for lakeshore flooding.
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