We’ve got another pitch from Angel Publishing to look at today, this time using a lot of the ad copywriter’s favorite techniques to get our attention as he pitches subscriptions to Technology & Opportunity.
What do I mean by that? We’ll run through a few examples…
First, the “smart wealthy people are already on board” bit…
“Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and the Rockefellers are betting a colossal nine figures on: The #1 Stock of This Generation”
And the “I’m holding the secret details on this paper” bit:
“Inside this folder are 140 patents that will soon alter the very fabric of the world as we know it.”
Plus the “you’ll never believe what’s inside this ordinary building” spiel, including a photo:
“They’ve been quietly filed over the last three years by a secretive company…
“In this nondescript office park…
“On the outskirts of San Francisco.”
Who can resist, right?
And we get a little back story, too…
“Outside of the company’s engineers, only a few people have been allowed to witness this technology for themselves.
“In 2017, Jeff Bezos was given a ‘demo’ and immediately dipped into his own pockets to write a check for $116 million.
“In 2018, Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal founder, was invited to visit this company’s headquarters…
“And shortly after he walked out, Thiel’s investment fund wrote them another eight-figure, multimillion-dollar check.”
Just to give you some context here, I did some back-of-the-envelope math… and Jeff Bezos investing $116 million is probably about the same level of commitment as me investing about $3,000. I would think about it before spending that much money, just like I’d think about it before buying a new couch or bicycle, but it would certainly not be an earth-shaking bet.
What they’re pitching for new Technology & Opportunity investors is a “special report” called, “The #1 Stock of This Generation: How You Could Ride the End of Aging to Enormous Stock Returns” … so does that ring a little bell?
Yes, this is a repeat… but with a bit of a twist, because the words of these ad copywriters have been put into a different pundit’s mouth — I covered almost exactly this story in October, when Jason Stutman was calling this the “#1 Stock of This Generation” … and now, as I look through the ads, it seems that the wording is just about identical, except for the fact that the guy whose signature and picture is in the ad is no longer Jason Stutman, who seems to have been kicked upstairs to management at Angel (according to his LinkedIn profile, at least) and is no longer listed as an “expert” on their website. He has been replaced as the “I” in this ad by Keith Kohl, who has run a bunch of different newsletters over the years but who, in the world of teasers we’ve covered, has mostly been promoted as an expert on oil and mining stocks.
So I’m re-sharing our story here with updates, with lots of readers sending me questions again this week — and I’ll also keep the original comments attached to the bottom, for your information (including some from Jason Stutman, who has been known to chime in from time to time when we’ve covered his work in the past).
More on the insiders:
“Company insiders already know what’s about to unfold.Are you getting our free Daily Update
"reveal" emails? If not,
just click here...
“Over the last few weeks, they’ve been quietly buying up shares left and right…
“To the tune of $4.8 million.
“And institutional heavyweights like BlackRock, Vanguard, Renaissance Technologies, Goldman Sachs, and Charles Schwab have all been tripping over each other to get in as well.”
He compares this to the dawn of the fast food industry, the beginning of the personal computer revolution, or the launch of the internet… but at least he doesn’t go back in time as some pundits have, and compare this latest technology breakthrough to the discovery of electricity, the expansion of the railroad, or the industrial revolution.
And he spins the “end of aging” tale nicely:
“… what this tiny company is about to do is bigger than McDonald’s, bigger than Microsoft, and bigger than Amazon.
I want you to imagine waking up on January 1, 2100.
“It’s the dawn of the new century.
“And even though you celebrated your 100th birthday many years ago…
“You spring out of bed without a hitch.
“You go to brush your teeth and staring out of the mirror is a face that only looks one-third of your real age.
“You kiss your beautiful wife.
“Then you drive down to the golf course to play a round with your friends.”
Gosh, it’s almost like
Stutman Kohl knows that the key demographic for investment newsletters is folks in their 50s, 60s and 70s who maybe woke up feeling a little creaky this morning… like yours truly.
He even makes it seem completely real, by showing a photo of a little yellow capsule:
“The ancient Greeks called it ambrosia: The sweet nectar consumed by the gods that gifted them with immortality.
“For medieval Christians, it was the Holy Grail: The cup that Christ drank out of during the Last Supper.
“And Ponce de Leon stomped through the New World’s swampy shores looking for the Fountain of Youth.
“But finally, at last, our search has come to an end — all because of a small pill.
“Just like this.
“But don’t let its appearance fool you, because inside this plain-looking pill is a completely new type of technology that could, according to The Guardian:
“‘… spell the end of aging’ once and for all.”
Sounds like the kind of pill we’d all like to have on our bedside table, right?
“This pill could eradicate every single sign and symptom of aging in your body. Forever.
“Which means once it’s released to the public, virtually every other company in the health care industry will be made obsolete….
“What’s going to happen to that $15 trillion slice of the economy?
“Well, that’s an easy answer: It’s going to flow right to this company.”
Really? All the health care spending will be canceled, and that money instead will just go to this little company that stopped aging? That’s the plan? Ummm, OK. We’ll leave that there for the moment, you can chew on that notion by yourself if you like.
So what has this company done? Here’s how
Stutman Kohl describes it:
“… this small biotech firm has figured out how to make zombie cells self-destruct…
“And completely erase every sign of aging from your body!
“Inside this patented pill is a special group of compounds called senolytics.
“Seno is derived from the Latin word -senex, meaning old, and -lytic, meaning to destroy.
“So, the literal definition of senolytics is ‘old-destroying.’
“And that’s exactly what these compounds do.
“Once inside your body, senolytic compounds selectively target your old, damaged zombie cells, causing them to self-destruct.”
There are tons of researchers working on senolytics, but that does narrow down the field quite a bit when we’re talking about biotech stocks… and, yes, so does the Peter Thiel investment and the Jeff Bezos connection.
One more bit of clues for you?
“Leading This Anti-Aging Revolution Is One of the Most Successful Biotech Entrepreneurs in History
He was named by the MIT Technology Review as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under 35.
“Before his 40th birthday, he had already revolutionized biotech not once, not twice…
“But four times.”
OK, yes, so that’s Ned David… and
StutmanKeith Kohl is pitching the same stock we’ve seen touted for “anti aging” so many times, Unity Biotechnology (UBX).
In fact, Stutman and Kohl’s own colleague at Angel Publishing, Jeff Siegel, pitched this as his “Day Zero” stock for more than a year as well, predicting various made-up dates on which the earth will change forever because Unity “ended aging.” It’s a little unusual to see two newsletters from the same publisher touting the same idea (or two pundits sign the same ad letter a month or two apart, for that matter), but at least they’re both “entry level” newsletters (Technology & Opportunity is being advertised at $59/yr, Green Chip Stocks $99), so at least they’re not pitching it for a $5,000 newsletter first and then later using the $99 newsletter folks to prop up the share price (call me a cynic, but we’ve seen situations that smelled like that in the past).
The big news in the past year for Unity has been bad — the failure of their first drug in clinical trials, followed by some massive cuts to their headcount as they quickly refocused on their next drug and made a plan to make their cash balance last. And yes, while they have advanced the study of senolytics… they have not yet proven that their senolytics do anything useful in the human body, and they’re certainly not on the verge of developing a broad senolytic pill that destroys all your senolytic “zombie” cells and makes you young again (the pill is just an unrelated image, it appears, Unity’s only drugs that have been tried in humans so far are injections — one in the knee, that’s the one that failed to show any impact on osteoarthritis, and one in the eye as a hoped-for treatment for diabetic macular edema, which just launched its Phase 1 clinical trials in mid-October and should provide some data within the next few months — “first half of 2021” is their guidance on that).
That doesn’t mean Unity can’t be a hugely successful company one day, for biotechs it sometimes takes just one “hit,” and those can certainly come late in the game… all we know now is that they’re starting out in a hole. They’ve restructured the company to preserve cash, and they think that should get them through to mid-2022 before they have to raise more money, so the full focus of the company is getting their second drug, UBX1325 (that’s the eye one) through Phase 1b by then, with some proof of concept and, hopefully, some indication of efficacy. Before that Phase 1b trial can begin, though, we’ll be hearing sometime in the next few months about the safety profile and side effects in the Phase 1a results.
So no rush, as I see it. There’s some immediate appeal in the balance sheet, since this is now just a $350 million company (it dropped to $200 million in the crash in August, when their first drug failed, but has worked its way back), and they have $132 million in cash available, but that’s really just a mirage — the cash is there, but they’ll be spending all of that, and some more borrowed money from Hercules Technology Growth (HTGC), in their efforts to develop this drug over the next year or so (they have an $80 million loan facility from Hercules, $25 million of that is already received and is part of that $132 million as of September 30, whether or not they get the rest depends on Hercules’ approval and reaching some progress milestones).
If the drug shows some great signs of safety and they can claim some “proof of concept” on removing senolytic cells from the eye and perhaps get some indication that they’re reversing some of the eye diseases common with age, then they’ll be able to easily raise a bunch more money for the next phase of work… if the results are not so exciting, or worse, if there’s a safety issue in these early patients, then Unity could have to restructure more thoroughly.
They do have a second ophthalmology drug in “IND-enabling” studies (meaning, lab work and animal testing that could lead to a filing to begin human clinical trials), and beyond that they have other R&D projects for neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders, and more basic research that might turn into additional drug programs, but none of that is ready for prime time right now… and none of it is going to get a lot of spending, I imagine, until they have some UBX1325 results. The way they describe things in their most recent presentation, their $132 million in cash as of the last update (September) should get them through to mid-2022 with “disciplined” spending — which fits neatly into the clinical trial forecast. By that time they hope good data from Phase 1b on whether or not this drug shows signs of doing what they hope it will do.
The end of aging may be coming, and certainly a lot of companies and researchers are working on senolytics, but a lot of people are also very wary of the systemic impact (there’s a nice Discover article here for those of us who aren’t scientists) — there’s been some really exciting research on mice about reversing aging (like the Mayo Clinic research that got a lot of attention this summer, unrelated to Unity), but there’s also some suspicion that we’re not really going to understand the side effects for quite some time… and that clinical trials to understand this better might take decades to play out. And, of course, the headline-generating stories are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to research that’s going on right now — there was also a story this summer about some common antibiotics maybe having the potential to remove senescent cells, and I’m sure if you follow the science you can tell me about dozens of other senolytics being investigated in labs around the world. Maybe Unity will make good progress in targeted drugs for particular parts of the body, or specific ailments where senolytics have a positive impact with limited negative effect, but any evidence of that is still in the future.
And there has been some other news since the clinical trial failure, both good and bad — that bit about “insider buying” in the tease is pretty much hogwash, as if often is, there has never really been any meaningful insider buying at this company, most of the shares that went to insiders have been from stock options or stock grants, and there’s been no real buying that I can see in the past year or so (the wording is the same as it was back in October: “Over the last few weeks, they’ve been quietly buying up shares left and right… To the tune of $4.8 million,” and it wasn’t accurate in October when this first ran — there were stock grants to employees in about that amount, but no buying — but seems extra absurd now that the co-founder subsequently sold 74% of his shares for $9 million in December, particularly because the ad, largely unchanged other than swapping out Stutman for Kohl, is mostly unchanged four months later, and is undated).
And indeed, it wasn’t just insider selling — co-founder Ned David, who was presumably the guy who enticed Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos to invest early on, and is widely seen as a biotech wunderkind (he’s the guy who had dome so much before turning 40, as teased), stepped down from leadership at Unity and sold most of his shares at the end of the year (he stepped down as President, though he is still on the Board of Directors).
The good news, if you’re looking for some, is that they did publish a study about a month ago indicating some potential pre-clinical progress in selectively eliminating senescent cells from the eye, so they’re still “all in” on the diabetic retinopathy and macular edema work and think they’re on the right track with that, and they just appointed Dr. Sapieha, one of the lead researchers on that project, as their Chief Science Advisor, part of the effort to get the company moving on their ophthalmology programs under new leadership.
Will it work? I dunno. I’d say the most reasonable thing to hope for this year is probably really just a lack of bad news, which would mean results from the first patients that indicate it’s safe and doesn’t have worrisome side effects — real good news, at least from clinical trials that prove some efficacy in treating the disease, is not unlikely to come until they get the Phase 1b results sometime in 2022 (and, of course, that news could be bad, too). Whether investors change their mind about the company in the meantime, of course, is a different story — the shares have gradually recovered from the collapse of their lead drug, so they’ve thrown that baggage off the train and the emotional shift to something new is already done… and who knows, it’s biotech, they might post exciting pre-clinical discoveries that get everyone ginned up for a different program, or get promoted by some newsletters or pundits (or the Reddit crowd, for that matter, though there isn’t a huge short position in UBX), and find themselves market darlings again. I say all of that as a very non-expert dude in the world of healthcare and clinical trials. I tend to avoid investing in biotech, mostly because I don’t like betting on a horse race where I can’t even tell the horses from the cows, so it’s easy for me to come in with skepticism… so perhaps those of you who are more medically inclined can share a bit more enthusiasm with us… or some perspective.
So I’ll turn it back over to you — does seeing the same words come from Keith Kohl make you think differently about it than when they came from Jason Stutman over the past few months? Think Unity Biotechnology is going to be the company we look back on as the pioneer in anti-aging, or is it going to be some of the other research on other senolytics that moves us forward? Or maybe will senescent cells turn out to have a more important purpose than we realize today, and we’ll decide we oughta keep them on board, after all? I have no idea, but I do have a touch of arthritis and I’m sure feeling pretty old on this Monday morning, so I do wish them all the best. Even if I’m not investing any money in the company.
P.S. If you do happen to be a subscriber to Technology and Opportunity, the letter that was formerly helmed by Christian DeHaemer and Jason Stutman and seems now to have been shunted to Keith Kohl, do pop in to our review section and let your fellow readers know what you think of it — thanks!
Disclosure: Among the companies mentioned above, I own shares of Amazon (and shares of the similarly-named but unrelated Unity Software). I will not trade in any covered stock for at least three days, per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.
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