There's nothing like getting your message out to a national televisionaudience to increase interest in your stock.

Viagene Inc., which had its AIDS product featured on a CBS News48 HOURS broadcast last Thursday, had a record number sharestraded on Friday, when the stock gained 38 cents to $7 per share.The trading volume of more than 800,000 was about 10 times whatit's been this year, and about 50 times more than last year's averagevolume, said Robert Abbott, Viagene's president and CEO.

Viagene's stock (NASDAQ:VIGN), however, has been shooting upall year. It's now more than doubled in price since the $3.50 it wastrading at the start of January. The stock gained another 13 centsMonday, closing at $7.13.

"One thing we saw last week was much more interest from retailbuyers vs. institutional buyers," Abbott told BioWorld. "Thecompany was pretty open about the fact that the program was goingto happen. I expect that a lot of trading that happened was tradingthat took place in anticipation of the program," and on Friday anumber of people may have traded out of the stock.

The 48 HOURS episode, which drew an estimated 7.6 millionviewers, followed three HIV patients participating in a clinical trialof Viagene's HIV-IT (V) gene therapy product. The show, more thana year in the making, gave a positive portrayal of the investigator, thetrial participants and, finally, the drug's potential.

"We were inundated with calls from patients and investors," saidAbbott, whose employees either answered questions about the trialsor routed callers to a toll-free number that gave recorded informationon trial sites.

Mary Murphy, who produced the show, told BioWorld that CBSplanned for a high volume of calls, and got them. Many of the callershad HIV, or knew someone with the disease, and inquired abouteligibility requirements and trial sites.

"We're happy that we participated in the show," Abbott said. "It didend up being quite educational for the public, and it was presented inan objective way. We're looking forward to continuing ourinteraction with the CBS folks."

Abbott said a published report in early January listing Viagene as apotential takeover target may have contributed to the stock'sdramatic increase. Another, he said, may be that "there has been ageneral warming in the biotech sector, on a selective basis." Viagenemay be one of a "select number of companies that people have hadtheir eyes on since the fall, and waited until the new year to increasetheir positions," he said.

"I'm not sure the program had a long-term positive or negativeimpact on our stock," Abbott said. "If you look at the movement ofour stock in January, it looks like it very much was independent ofthe 48 HOURS program. The impact appears to be the unusuallyhigh volume immediately before and after the program.

"We went into this project determined to respond to questionsobjectively and without hyperbole. That may be a lesson that theindustry can benefit from: The media is a conduit for communicationand should be utilized just as that rather than as a leverage point forhyping companies' positions or products. We resisted that and thenet result was a program that was positive and yet withoutoverstatement.

"All of the feedback we've had has been positive; people saying itwas a great program and great for the industry," Abbott said. "I'mappreciative that a news organization like CBS would take a non-investigative-type look at the positive contributions an industry canmake, and highlight the complexities, frustrations and hopes thatmake up an experimental trial." n

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.