The biotechnology sector has been facing a lot of challenges lately, including public and political outcry over high drug prices, multiple companies facing various investigations, and increasing competition from generics.

Amid the volatility, the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index managed to scale up by 10.71% during the first quarter of 2017, outperforming the larger S&P 500 (SPX) index, that clocked 5.53%. While bulk of biotech stocks managed to hold their ground, a few emerged as winners with huge returns, while others ended on the lower side. 

Q1 2017 Biotech Winners

Pulmatrix Inc. (PULM) stock has gained around 491% during the first quarter of 2017. Its bull run started in mid-January, when the U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) granted Qualified Infectious Disease Product Designation (QIDP) to its inhaled product for treating fungal infections. This was followed by two back-to-back successful stock offerings worth $5 million and $3.3 million, respectively.

Calithera Biosciences Inc. (CALA) has gained more than 255% during the quarter, as it announced a key global collaboration with Incyte Corp. for its cancer drug. This was followed by company announcing a large public offering to raise more capital that helped the stock's upward price run. (See also, Incyte Pays $53M for Calithera Cancer Drug.)

A series of positive developments helped Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc. (AUPH) stock spike around 250% during the first quarter of 2017. In early March, its lupus drug voclosporin fared well in a safety study, and the company later announced positive results from an open-label study of the drug, which further lifted Aurinia's stock price. (See also, Aurinia Pharma Spikes on Lupus Drug Safety.)

Protalix Biotherapeutics Inc. (PLX) started the year on a positive note by announcing positive interim results in early January from its Phase 2 clinical trial of alidornase alfa for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Its quarterly return of 205% was helped by robust fourth-quarter results, in which Protalix beat earnings expectations by 9 cents per share. Naturally, this further lifted the company's stock price.

Cellect Biotechnology Ltd. (APOP) stands with a 178% quarterly gain. The spike came at the end of March, after its first stem cell transplant using Cellect's ApoGraft technology in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial in a blood cancer patient was successful. (See also, Cellect Succeeds In First Stem Cell Transplant.)

Graph Courtesy: Google Finance

Q1 2017 Biotech Losers

Argos Therapeutics Inc. (ARGS) has lost more than 90% of its valuation in the first quarter of 2017. The collapse was triggered by a recommendation from an independent data monitoring committee that led to the discontinuation of a Phase 3 clinical trial of its drug for metastatic renal cell carcinoma therapy rocapuldencel-t.

Novan Inc. (NONV) lost more than 76% of its value during the first quarter, as its acne vulgaris therapy missed to meet two of three co-primary endpoints in a Phase 3 trial in late January.

Tenax Therapeutics Inc. (TENX) is down more than 71% over the quarter, as a late January announcement about the failure of a Phase 3 trial in cardiac surgery tanked the stock price, which has failed to recover since then.

Galena Biopharma Inc. (GALE) is trading down around 69% since the start of the new year, as the company fired its CEO amid criminal DOJ investigation early February, which was followed by a discounted public offering which further collapsed the stock price. (See also, Galena Fires CEO Amid Criminal DOJ Probe.)

Aevi Genomic Medicine, Inc. (GNMX) suffered a setback in mid-March, when its ADHD drug AEVI-001 failed to meet the primary endpoint in an early-stage trial, tanking the stock price 65%, making it one of the top biotech losers of the first quarter.