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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Virgin Media, Vodafone Group, Sanofi, Novartis and Biogen Idec

CHICAGO, Nov. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq:VMED), Vodafone Group (Nasdaq:VOD), Sanofi (NYSE:SNY), Novartis (NYSE:NVS) and Biogen Idec (Nasdaq:BIIB).

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Here are highlights from Friday's Analyst Blog:

Virgin to Charge for Underground WiFi

Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq:VMED) – a leading entertainment and communication service provider in the U.K. is planning to charge people for using its WiFi underground network in London from January 2012 onwards.

Higher adoption of tablets and smartphones has propelled demand for internet data, thereby exerting more pressure on network traffic. Moreover, with the growing popularity of numerous social networking sites, people always like to stay connected with their loved ones, which isn't always possible, at times when they are in an underground metro due to network unavailability. More than 700,000 people using underground metro remains connected to Wi-Fi network.

So, by looking at the needs of the people as well as by shifting the huge data load from its network, Virgin Media has rolled out Wi-Fi network services in and around the city of London especially at underground metro stations where the network is quite weak.

Previously, Virgin Media had set a target of offering its Wi-Fi network services across 120 underground metro stations by the end of 2012. Till now, the company has been able to cover 72 stations and plans to add 20 more stations by the end of this year with further inclusion of 28 stations by the beginning of next year.

Earlier, the Wi-Fi network service was freely available to other telecom subscribers. However, from the next year onwards they will be charged £2 per day, thereby creating another revenue stream for the company going forward.

However, the underground Wi-Fi network service will remain free for its own broadband and mobile customers, Vodafone Group (Nasdaq:VOD) and EE telecom subscribers.

However, we also remain highly apprehensive about the success of the new revenue stream as both Vodafone and EE, will get the underground WiFi service free of cost, which constitute 76% of the total customers in Greater London.

We are maintaining our long-term Neutral recommendation on Virgin Media Inc. Currently; it has a Zacks #3 Rank, implying a short-term Hold rating on the stock.

Sanofi MS Drug Gets Nod in Australia

Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) and its subsidiary Genzyme recently announced that their oral candidate for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (RMS), Aubagio (teriflunomide) 14 mg, has received Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval. The TGA approved Aubagio as a once-daily treatment for patients with RMS.

We note that Australia is the second country where Aubagio received approval. On September 12, 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Aubagio as a once-daily treatment for patients with RMS. Aubagio is currently under regulatory review in the EU with a final decision expected in the first quarter of 2013.

The Australian approval came on the basis of data from a pivotal phase III study (TEMSO) in patients with RMS. In the trial, Aubagio demonstrated promising efficacy and safety profile.

Competition in the oral multiple sclerosis (MS) market is intense. Novartis' (NYSE NVS ) Gilenya already has a lead in the oral MS market with the product being approved in September 2010. Another major competitor could be Biogen Idec's (Nasdaq: BIIB) BG-12, which is currently under regulatory review in the US and EU.

We are pleased with Sanofi's progress with its pipeline. Over the last few months, several of Sanofi's pipeline candidates gained approval including US approval of Aubagio for RMS and US approval of Zaltrap (aflibercept) as a combination therapy for treatment-experienced patients suffering from metastatic colorectal cancer. Recently, the CHMP also recommended the approval of Zaltrap and diabetes candidate, Lyxumia (lixisenatide).

We expect Sanofi to continue to contain operating costs in order to increase earnings in the face of weakening sales of some of its biggest products. We also expect the company to pursue bolt-on acquisitions.

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