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Try Again, Trimeris

By Alyce Lomax
January 7, 2004

Headline skimmers, beware. When a company plays "hide and seek," and the object that's hiding is a piece of bad news, it's no laughing matter to investors. Trimeris (Nasdaq: TRMS) got busted Monday following market close after it issued what was considered a rather deceptive press release. Its stock took a 14.5% hit Tuesday, and analysts scrutinized the company, accusing it of burying bad news.

The whole brouhaha started Monday evening, when Trimeris issued a press release with the headline, "Following the Successful Development of FUZEON, Roche and Trimeris Sign Research Agreement to Develop Next Generation of HIV Infusion Inhibitors."

Three paragraphs into the announcement, in the last line, is the following statement at the crux of the issue: "Due to challenges in achieving the desired technical profile of the current formulation of the investigational compound T-1249, Roche and Trimeris have decided to put the early stage clinical program of T-1249 on hold."

Many investors didn't miss a note, though, as the stock began plummeting in after-hours trading that night. In addition, a reporter pulled the information, despite a headline that looked like a fairly commonplace press announcement.

According to Reuters Tuesday, the company denied analysts' claims that it had buried anything. You know -- the old, "Hey, it's right there" routine -- and, after all, it is. In adherence with the SEC's Regulation FD, the same press release is filed as an exhibit to a Form 8-K.

We all know that press releases can be confusing, given the usual spin administered by corporate public relations departments, but this story underlines the importance of doing more than a headline and two-paragraph skim. Foolish investors know that careful scrutiny can make a difference in a situation like this one.

The stock dropped about 14.5% in Tuesday's trading session, and it continued to fall today. It's no surprise if investors feel their trust shaken, and the prognosis might not be so rosy seeing how T-1249 is the only drug Trimeris had in clinical trials right now. Investors have little reason to hide their displeasure on this one.

Alyce Lomax welcomes your feedback at
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