This particular ad hasn’t actually been completely lambasting my inbox this week, which is a surprise since the “cure for obesity” stocks usually gin up quite a bit of interest — being overweight is, after all, the plague of our time of overabundance and the cause of so many of our ills, both social and medical.
Not that I’m immune, I’m afraid — love of beef, beer, scotch and ice cream have enriched my life but have also kept my middle from shrinking, though I’ve pretty much accepted that I can’t give up eating or drinking to a major degree so I’ll just have to exercise more. So if you see a fat guy biking up the Berkshire foothills in neon-colored lycra, please be kind and don’t run him over or mock his squishy butt. It could be your friendly neighborhood Gumshoe.
But anyway, this ad ran pretty heavily at the end of last week, and it’s from the folks at Agora Financial so I can almost guarantee we’ll see it again — and, more interestingly if you’re obsessed with the newsletter world as I am, this is the first ad I’ve seen for the Breakthrough Technology Alert that completely fails to mention the name Patrick Cox. Now the merry leader of that newsletter is Ray Blanco, who cut his teeth running the lower-priced Technology Profits Confidential. It’s hard to imagine that Cox retired, since I assume he’s going to need plenty of cash if he’s going to live forever (inside joke — he has come close to promising immortality with some of his teaser picks in the past, including this stem cell one from earlier in the year), so I presume that he either got fired or will resurface in the months to come with some new publisher, we’ll see.
The promise from Ray Blanco this time is that there’s a company working in nano-medicine that’s about to solve the problem of obesity — which will, of course, make us rich. So what’s the stock he’s touting?
Well, it’s a Looooooooong ad (if I printed it out, it would cover 64 pages), so I’ll try to summarize a few points for you and share a few of the key clues from the pitch. Here’s the intro that gets us all hot and bothered:
“Time’s run out for companies profiting from our national obsession with losing weight and our failure to keep it off!
“In Fat People We Do Trust!”
“But that scam is about to meet its end at the hands of a 21st Century Pierre and Marie Currie.
“For they’re succeeding at doing what no other company can:
“KEEPING ITS PROMISE to help anyone lose weightpermanently, safely and quickly!
“Investors who ACT BEFORE rumors come true that their company will soon be bought by a BIG PHARMA company could make 4X… 6X… even 10X their money practically overnight!”
So — breakthrough scientific innovators who are going to solve a major problem and get a huge big pharma buyout — that’s a familiar pitch, and with the big pharmaceutical companies always looking for ways to restock their development pipeline there’s at least an active market for breakthroughs. If they work, of course, and if people think they can inch closer to approval by the FDA.
Then we run through a few pages of how scammy and pointless the weight loss industry is, how it thrives by breaking its promises, and how most people just can’t adjust their habits of a lifetime and keep them adjusted to lose weight. As he puts it, “hope and vanity is eternal” and we keep looking for ways to feed our vanity and shrink our waistlines, whether for aesthetic or medical reasons.
And then we get to our teaser pick and some clues …
“… today, from the University of Texas comes another opportunity for you…
“Indeed, if you’re not afraid to become rich – if you can see yourself a millionaire, finally and all at once – consider the rewards you could receive from the technologies and discoveries of these two brilliant young minds…
“Two laboratory scientists I’ll here call Drs. Renee and Walter.
“And once again I will make a prediction…
“That these two young people, husband and wife, already incredibly wealthy, but still working tirelessly at the University of Texas, will soon be seen as the Pierre and Marie Curie of our time – Nobel Laureates both.
“Hitch your horse to their wagon and I say you’ll be forever grateful and rewarded for having done so….
“on their way to discovering a cure for prostate cancer, they may have discovered…
“A 100% effective, weight loss solution – for everyone!”
It may be the Alzheimer’s Disease is the last “unmet need” billionaire-maker in medicine, the one disease that no one has really been able to crack but that should produce incredible rewards for anyone who can sell a real cure … but a “cure” for obesity would, of course, go beyond the realm of medicine and probably be an even bigger money-maker. Here’s how the ad puts it:
“Drs. Renee and Walter own the science – the patents – the medical technology that quickly, effectively and safely dissolves body fat – permanently.
“And this miraculous fat-erasing treatment could someday be available without a prescription.
“Which is precisely why they and the biotechnology company they are partnering with could soon make the $60 billion a year weight loss industry their own private playground and bank account.
“Just imagine how much money fast-acting investors could earn investing in this company – first when the news gets out – and second when this weight loss solution actually hits store shelves!”
So what’s the company? Not so fast, first we have to step back a bit, because it’s not really “Dr. Renee and Dr. Walters” that we’re investing in, it’s their partner that could help bring the technology to market. Here’s how Blanco introduces it:
“… before I tell you exactly how Drs. Renee and Walter’s solution could provide 100% safe and 100% effective weight loss – by the way, it’s already half way through human clinical trials – there’s something you need to know about the company they’re working with…
“The biotechnology company that could help bring their Nobel Prize worthy discovery to market – and possibly a veritable fortune into the hands of early-bird investors.
“For it’s not really a biotech company in the traditional sense.
“At least not in the way your typical Wall Street analyst expects and understands a biotech company to be structured, much less run.
“Now I’ve been following this company for years.
“Yet even today, with the vast library of breakthrough technologies it owns – in addition to those of Drs. Renee and Walter’s – its business model is still vastly underappreciated, under-valued and pathetically misunderstood by most analysts.”
So what about this company?
Well, we get a fake name for the CEO to go with the fake names for the scientists — he calls him “Dr. Arnold” and tells us this about him:
“this man who holds a Ph.D. in biology from UCLA…
“The amazing Dr. Arnold…
“Not surprisingly, prior to taking the helm of this company, Dr. Arnold founded and ran another company, similar in structure, which funded and developed many of today’s most successful and well-known biotechnology companies.
“In fact, his ability to mine the business opportunities created by the convergence of various and often unrelated technologies has prompted some to call him this century’s preeminent technology entrepreneur.”
So what is this company of “Dr. Arnold’s”?
“A company employing an impressive group of celebrity scientists… who are developing therapeutic products at the intersection of biology and nano-engineering….
“Dr. Arnold’s company in a very real sense is part technology incubator, part venture capital fund and even part mutual fund.
“A rather unique business model to be sure – nonetheless, it has the advantage of providing him and his company with three chances to hit the bulls eye, where other companies just have one at best….
“First, his company identifies, then funds university research in promising new technologies in exchange for the intellectual properties or patents that may eventually arise from them.
“And if over time it’s clear that the technology can indeed be fully developed and commercialized, Dr. Arnold then creates a majority-owned subsidiary.
“The subsidiary will then either license the intellectual property to manufacturers in the related field, or he’ll sell the subsidiary outright.”
This company apparently sold off its nanomaterials business after Samsung came calling, so now Blanco thinks the stock should get a better look from Wall Street now that it’s not quite as oddly diversified and is focused solely on “nano-therapeutics”, with this therapy from our pseudonymous doctors moving forward as a lead idea.
And mind you, though this seems like a lot of blather you’ve had to sit through from yours truly … we’re ONLY HALFWAY THROUGH THE AD at this point. I suffer so you don’t have to. That, my friends, is simply more evidence of how much I love you.
Now, finally, we move on to some more details about this weight-loss solution…
“… biology, not the brain, is responsible for appetite, metabolism and body weight.
“And when a scientific paper was written a few years back about tests conducted that actually proved this, and of a therapy in early-stage development, which showed remarkable results and virtually no side effects…
“The scientific community went wild, as did the media.
“The authors of the study were feted on Fox News, CBS News, in articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and others.
“The authors, of course, as you may have already guessed, were Drs. Renee and Walter.”
What is this discovery of theirs?
“… the nano-substances Drs. Renee and Walter were working with were small molecules called peptides….
“Peptides are chemical compounds, protein fragments actually, that act as messengers traveling within and among the cells of the human body delivering critically-important messages to their matched full-bodied protein counterparts.
“Proteins, on the other hand, are basically tiny molecular machines, nano-machines, that control most of the physiological processes within our bodies – the building and repair of body tissue and muscles, for example.
“What the doctors were trying to develop then was a ‘delivery technology,’ as opposed to a drug, wherein a peptide, acting as a delivery vehicle, carries a drug to a matched protein so it can turn the targeted protein on or off as needed….
“Drs. Renee and Walter were researching cancer angiogenesis, or the rapid growth of blood vessels in malignant tumors – and specifically how to stop their growth…. they could starve the cancer to death without killing the surrounding healthy tissue.”
Fast forward ten years or so, and we’re told that these doctors, in the search for cancer-targeting peptides, have been able to amass a huge library of peptides that may be valuable for drug targeting …
“Drs. Renee and Walter focused in earnest on cataloging, and patenting, as many peptides and matching receptor sites as they could.
“Today… in conjunction with Dr. Arnold’s company, they own the world’s largest library of identified peptides – 42,000 and growing.
“And each of these peptides will attach only to specific tissues in the human body, and no others.
“In other words, they have patented tens of thousands of silver bullets. A virtual silver mine if you will.”
One of the peptides they found was one that targeted the receptors on the walls of blood vessels taht feed fat cells, so they created a drug to collapse those blood vessels and cut off the fat cells. They started testing it on mice in 2004, and the obese mice lost 30% of their body weight — so that sounds like a big deal.
“Equally exciting was the discovery that the rapid release of fat cells into the bloodstream did not result in dangerous levels of fat coursing through the body, where it could be expected to inflame blood vessels, disrupt metabolism and prompt an uptick in appetite.
“Instead, the fat cells were burned as fuel.
“Drs. Renee and Walter were ecstatic, thrilled – jumping for joy!”
They went on to test it in monkeys, where the drug also worked well in killing fat cells and suppressing appetite, but now apparently they’ve moved on to human trials … where we start to learn whether there’s any chance that it works on humans or is safe for them to use. Which brings us to the catalyst that Ray Blanco is telling us to expect:
“… at the end of last year Phase 1 human clinical trials indeed commenced.
“The Peptide Drug Conjugate treatment has been administered to obese patients with advanced prostrate cancer.
“Now understand, while Phase 1 trials are typically designed to demonstrate only safety, these patients have been treated with the additional intent of battling both their weight and their cancer simultaneously.
“A herculean and historic effort to be sure.
“And since the treatments only continued for four weeks…
“The Phase 1 trial has no doubt already ended.
“The final report, therefore, may very well be announced in a matter weeks, if not days.
“And if the results are consistent, or even better, than the results achieved previously over the past six years – remember, too, prostate cancer is also being treated – you can only imagine the uproar, the celebration on Wall Street that will ensue when the data is finally released.”
OK, so we can take you out of your suspense now — what is this wonder drug?
This particular drug is Adipotide. Based on the peptide work done by our two doctors, whose real names are Renata Pasqualini and Wadih Arap — and whose “scientists in love” story is compelling enough that the story of their romance made it into Real Simple magazine and the Chronicle of Higher Education. They have their own lab at the Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, and their for-profit collaborator is a little company named Arrowhead Research (ARWR). The “Dr. Arnold” in the ad is really Christopher Anzalone, Ph.D., CEO of ARWR.
Adipotide is one of the leading drugs being partnered or promoted by ARWR as it works its way into the pipeline, and they did start a Phase 1 trial — but it wasn’t last winter, it was the winter before that the FDA gave permission. The first patient was dosed in July, 2012. I have no idea when they might release results. The company has focused most of its work on building platforms for drug development based on targeting and homing technologies — these peptides are one of the, and they do say they have the largest peptide library in the world, but there are others as well, you can see their explanations of the technology here.
Arrowhead is set up more or less like a venture capital and partnering firm, trying to limit their spending on programs and instead partner out most of the work — ideally. Which is probably a smart way to go in these new areas, the risk for brand new types of drugs is very high, and their science is mostly at very early stages so, as with some other companies who are prospecting for precious metals or for cures to diseases, the focus seems to be on building a lot of relatively inexpensive discovery programs and hoping some of them (or at least one) hit the mother lode.
Most of the attention on Arrowhead of late has been their newest Phase 1 trial, ARC-520 for Hepatitis B, which is a RNAi compound. They just started dosing patients, so it will be a while before we hear anything. I just did some cursory sniffing around and have seen no sign of any report about the Adipotide trials, so I don’t know if that’s because they were uninspiring or because it just took a long time to get the patients dosed and track the results. The company hasn’t been saying much of anything about Adipotide, which gives me pause when trying to guess as to whether it has any value, but they’re also not really spending any more money on it, the trial is being done at the Anderson Cancer Center and pad for by them … so if there’s an announcement that the drug kills people I expect that would hurt ARWR’s share price but I don’t know what the impact will be if Adipotide just turns out be ineffective in this trial. The investor focus really seems to be on other areas, so a big exciting release about Adipotide would probably be a big positive.
So there you have it — this is a $120 million company, they have a few irons in the fire but seem to be focused mostly on their RNAi work right now, particularly their new ARC-520 Phase 1 trial for Hepatitis B … and … the price has doubled over the last three weeks. Here’s what Blanco says about the current excitement, I began seeing their ad right in the middle of the recent price appreciation but I don’t know exactly what day it began (it’s dated just, “July 2013”):
“And because they’ve suddenly been elevated into a leadership position within the field of RNAi research and development, I’ll now make another prediction…
“Given that Dr. Arnold’s business model, as already stated, is not to hold on to his subsidiaries once they have reached a critical performance threshold…
“But rather to spin them off, or at least license their technology…
“I believe a large pharmaceutical company might be ready to acquire Dr. Arnold’s subsidiary sooner rather than later – and for obvious reasons…
“Its price might continue to rise quicker and higher – if just to keep pace with its clinical successes.
“In fact, I’ll share a little secret with you…
“It’s been reported that AstraZeneca and BiogenIdec are in a RNAi buying frame of mind – again!.
So what does an investor do with that? Well, that’s your call — the company has generated no real revenue in recent years, other than by selling new stock to keep themselves going, so it’s really just a bet on the science and the hope that Dr. Anzalone has chosen good programs to invest in. It might work, but this is also pretty early stage research and the sad fact is that most of the time, early stage research doesn’t provide results that would excite investors. That’s why this company that Blanco intimates can cure obesity and is the leading researcher in RNAi therapeutics is trading for only $120 million.
Personally, I don’t mind taking a nibble on super-speculative little stocks like this from time to time, with the knowledge that they might require both patience and a willingness to lose your entire investment, but this particular one hasn’t appealed enough to me to every buy it — Patrick Cox pitched the obesity-fighting angle for Adipotide about a year and a half ago, too, and helped to briefly drive the shares up over $6 a share and I wasn’t tempted enough to jump in then, either. It strikes me that the real developments will be slow in coming, and the folks who bought in to the double from $2 to $4 this month might well lose patience before there’s any news from the clinical trials — if you get excited about the potential, you may well get a better price if you buy in nibbles over time.
That said, if they did end up with a great indication that they can cure obesity or Hepatitis B or diabetes (albeit in a half-dozen late stage prostate cancer patients), well, it seems silly to quibble over a a measly $60 million in market capitalization. The Hepatitis B results aren’t expected until early next year, and they’re also talking about planning for two Phase II trials of that one in 2014, so there will be catalysts coming — whether they’re good catalysts or bad catalysts, that I can’t tell you. That’s the basis of most of the Breakthrough Technology Alert stocks I’ve outed over the years, they recommend a bunch of them that have exciting early-stage science, and hopefully they occasionally get one that really is a “breakthrough” — I don’t know what their average returns are like, but that kind of approach usually results in a fair number of grouchy subscribers because people usually pick and choose a few investments, they don’t buy them all, and if you buy just a couple moonshot candidates the odds of winning are worse than if you buy 30. Of course, 30 of ’em could all go bad, too. If you’ve subscribed to Breakthrough Technology Alert, please click here to review it for your fellow investors — most of our reviews of that one are getting a bit old now.
So that’s a lot of blather just to end up with a stock that we wrote about years ago, and that has already doubled off of its recent lows (if you haven’t yet joined the Irregulars, you could have gotten the short version in the “Irregulars Quick Take” box at the top) — is the science of Adipotide or their RNAi stuff appealing enough to you to want to dig in, or do you already hold shares in this one? I’m sure many of you know Arrowhead better than I do, so feel free to chime in with a comment below.
P.S. Lest we’re worried that the Breakthrough Technology Alert portfolio is completely revamped with the replacement of Cox with Blanco at the helm, he does also offer up this tidbit in claiming success with one of their past picks:
“Readers were told to consider a biotechnology company that was, as far-fetched as it sounds, on the verge of making immortality — human immortality — a medical reality.
“Nevertheless, an alert went out – recommending that readers play this company as they could afford and as quickly as they could.
“Because once the news got out, it was almost a certainty that its shares will skyrocket.
“And sure enough… shortly after that recommendation, or prediction, if you will, was printed its shares promptly rose more than 1,000%. Of course, it has eventually pulled back since then, but it’s still up close to 500%.
“And I still hold that company in my model portfolio today, because I strongly believe its run is far from finished. Indeed, we could see a lot more upside in its shares – and relatively soon, too.”
I’m quite sure this is still about BioTime (BTX), which is the stock they teased for “immortality” earlier this year, and Patrick Cox may well have recommended it to his readers back in the Spring of 2008 or earlier, making a 1,000% return possible if you sold a couple years later at above $8. The first time we covered one of the breathless, overhyped teasers of theirs for this stock was November, 2008 when it had already come close to $2 on the strength, mostly, of Agora Financial’s dramatic increase in the number of people paying attention to the stock. The stock has been teased by Breakthrough Technology Alert many, many times, buying on all of those teases would have probably had you more or less breaking even — you’d be down 50% on one, up 100% on another, and up or down by smaller amounts on several other of the teaser campaigns (all in our tracking spreadsheets in case you’re curious).