by Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe | May 2, 2011 12:23 pm
Patrick Cox is at it again with some teaseriffic promises — this time, we’re told that …
“This is a Rare Opportunity to Own a Little-Known Biotech Company that’s Making Medical History…”
Of course, nearly everything that passes through the floodgates here at Gumshoe HQ is a “rare opportunity” … otherwise, why on earth would you pay someone a few thousand bucks to find out about it?
This one is actually for a somewhat less costly newsletter — Cox’s publishers at Agora did things differently this time, most newsletter franchises are started by building a $50-100 newsletter, developing a following and a mailing list, and then trying to “upgrade” those subscribers to things like lifetime deals or higher-priced “premium” letters. With Patrick Cox, though, they started with a pricey letter in the $500+ range (that’s Cox’s Breakthrough Technology Alert) and then, years later, introduced an “introductory” newsletter to pull in less committed subscribers at about $50 a year … which is the one we’re being pitched today, it’s called Technology Profits Confidential.
And for the last few days many Gumshoe readers have been sending me questions about this ad for a “magic bullet” cancer fighter — so I thought we ought to identify it for you.
Cancer is both an intractable foe and a compelling investment opportunity — effective drugs that fight cancer are what turned Genentech from a little biotech into a megacap stock, and cancer drugs are always closely followed by investors, in part because successful therapies, like Genentech’s Avastin, can become billion dollar franchises if they prove to be effective against one of the big cancers like lung, breast or colon cancer, for example … or more profitable still if they can also prove effective against multiple other types of cancer. So the promise and greed of this sub-sector of biotech is relatively inflated, but, of course, it works both ways — if it was easy to stop cancer, we would have done it and there wouldn’t be so many bankrupt cancer-fighting biotech companies.
So … which stock is it that Patric Cox is telling us might have a “magic bullet” … and what do they mean by “magic bullet,” anyway? Let’s check out the ad for tidbits and clues …
Cox draws the big picture for us:
“In the U.S. alone, The National Cancer Institute estimates that about 569,000 Americans will die of cancer this year. That’s one every minute.
“So it’s no wonder that a tiny group of the country’s top scientists at this small biotech firm were thrilled to hear the great news…
“The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) had such faith in their life-saving breakthrough medical technology that they gave it their coveted ‘fast-track’ status… expediting the review of this treatment because of its urgent medical need.”
Sounds impressive, right? “Fast track” is a popular phrase among biotech investors, it basically just means what it sounds like, that the FDA will be in closer communication with the company as clinical trials progress and will offer a more rapid response because the drug treats an unmet medical need for a serious disease (ie, something deadly or otherwise “really bad,” for which there isn’t already a very good treatment). Fast-track doesn’t mean that approval is guaranteed, by any means, but it does make the process easier and faster for the drug company — you can see the FDA’s explanation of what it means here if you want more detail.
Some more about this drug?
“… we could be about to have a revolutionary new “magic bullet” technology that helps crush certain types of cancer cells within 36 hours….
“This new technology could make it possible for doctors to act as expert snipers with scoped rifles… picking off bad cancer cells at will. And that ability to directly target the bad cancer cells is why I call it a “magic bullet.”
“No longer will doctors be limited to traditional chemotherapy… which doesn’t exclusively target cancer cells; it also harms your good cells, destroying some of your body.”
Probably all of us know someone who has suffered through chemotherapy or other painful or side effect-laden cancer treatments, so that “targeting” certainly sounds good, right? Let’s get some more “clues” …
“In this small biotech company’s latest clinical trial, an astounding 97% of cancer patients had a reduction in tumors.
“And over 85% of cancer patients achieved complete or partial remissions of their symptoms.”
And then Cox tells us about the patient who is apparently the source of the “36 hours” info:
“… Michael Garon… a 21 year old college student from Miami.
“He suffered from a rare form of lymphoma cancer with little chance of survival….
“Luckily, Michael was undergoing treatment at an academic medical center where a new clinical trial was just starting up.
“A trial which was using a tiny biotech’s groundbreaking new technology that zeroes in specifically on cancerous cells like “magic bullets,” with a potent toxin to give them extra tumor-killing punch.
“Within 36 hours, Michael’s cancerous tumors had disappeared…
“Michael called it a “miracle.”
“Finally, after years of pain and suffering and no hope in sight, Michael’s lymphoma was in remission…”
And we’re also given a bunch of quotes from specialists and doctors, which helps to bolster the argument and make it seem like it’s not just Patrick Cox touting the stock … here are the quotes:
“Dr. Tom Slegiel , a leading cancer specialist, says this innovative new technology will be ‘transformative’ in how cancer patients are treated.
“Dr. Andrew Shrew, Assistant Professor of Hematology at the Washington School of Medicine, writes that this ‘magic bullet’ technology results in “a remarkable rate of complete [cancer] remissions.”
“Dr. James Chow, Assistant Professor at a leading Nonprofit Cancer Center in California… says, with this revolutionary new medical technology, cancer patients could see drastic improvement ‘within a week.’”
Sounds impressive, though if history holds true all of those names have been altered … and you’ll notice that the quotes are super short, so they could be taken out of context.
Let’s scour the letter for our remaining clues and tantalizing promises, shall we?
“This innovative small biotech has four other clinical-stage cancer treatments in the pipeline… which could eventually save hundreds of thousands of people… perhaps even millions worldwide.
“For investors who get in right now, before word of the groundbreaking medical technology leaks out, the gains could be enormous…
“Enough to turn a small stake of $50,000 into $150,000 in a day…”
Okey dokey. And some more?
“Phase I and II FDA clinical trials were quickly and successfully completed…
“And Phase III testing is currently under way…
“Keep in mind… you want to get in early before the first catalyst we’re expecting from this company takes place – Phase III results – where we could see explosive gains happen quickly – even overnight…”
OK, so that’s four other drugs in the clinic, and at least one, presumably this “magic bullet” one, is in Phase III.
So … who? The Thinkolator sez this must be … Seattle Genetics (SGEN)
And coincidentally, SGEN is in the news today — this morning they announced that the FDA has granted priority review to their lead drug brentuximab vedotin, which is that “magic bullet” one Cox teases … so that means some action will come from the FDA by August 30. You can see the SGEN press release here. The news was not unexpected by investors, or at least that’s my interpretation from looking at the chart — the stock spiked by a dollar or so first thing this morning, but immediately gave almost all of that gain back.
This lead drug, incidentally, is also being developed in partnership — their partner, Millenium (which was bought by Takeda Pharmaceuticals a few years ago) apparently gets commercial rights to the rest of the world, Seattle Genetics gets the US and Canada, and presumably they’re sharing development costs in some way (I didn’t check the details on that).
We learn a little bit more by tracking down some of those quotes in the teaser — the one from “Dr. Tom Slegiel” seems to actually be this:
“We think the ADC technology is potentially transformative in how we treat cancer patients.”
ADC is the “antibody-drug conjugate” — that’s the “magic bullet” part, the treatment from SGEN is a monoclonal antibody that targets cancer, but it also includes some kind of toxic load to help kill the cancer cell, in this case Hodgkins Lymphoma. This isn’t the first kind of these combined treatments to be studied, though apparently they are on pace to possibly be the first to have one approved. It has worked well so far as a “last ditch” drug after other treatments have failed to slow Hodgkins, which is seen as a particularly critical cancer because it generally hits the very young (and therefore effective treatments could do far more in extending life than could diseases that primarily hit the very old, like, for example, Prostate cancer).
But the quote seems to not be from just any old cancer expert … it’s from the CEO of Seattle Genetics, whose name is actually Clay Siegall. You can see more on that in a NY Times article here that seems to be at least one potential source of the “transformative” quote. That article came out last Fall, when it became clear that SGEN would be submitting the drug for FDA approval by, well, now-ish, and it was in fact well known that they were getting special priority treatment and special protocol approval because of the nasty nature of Hodkins, particularly Hodgkins that doesn’t respond to the current standard of care.
The second quote, from “Andrew Shrew,” is actually from Dr. Andrei Shustov, who was quoted in a SGEN press release when they announced the positive Phase II results last year. Here’s a bit more of his quote:
“‘Nearly all patients in this trial had reductions in tumor volume, including a
remarkable rate of complete remissions,’ said Dr. Andrei Shustov, assistant
professor of Hematology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and attending physician in the Hematologic Malignancies Program at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.”
That press release is also the source of the “97%” number for tumor reductions — which is real, and the “over 85%” — actually, 86%, they say, of patients with an “objective response.” I assume that “objective response” is at least something like “complete or partial remissions” as teased … though the number for complete remission was substantially lower, at 53%. Still impressive, particularly since these were apparently patients who had already tried standard treatment unsuccessfully. You can see the full press release here if you like.
The “Dr. James Chow” quote seems to actually come from Dr. Robert Chen, who is indeed at a leading nonprofit center in California (City of Hope), though he also happens to be a consultant for SGEN and the lead researcher of this particular study, according to the Seattle Times article that includes his quote. Here’s a longer version of the quote:
“‘This is unheard of for a single drug,’ said Robert Chen, the study’s lead researcher. ‘Within a week, you could see some patients get better.’ With SGN-35, ‘you’re going to see more cures, and you’re going to buy a lot more time for patients who previously were destined for hospice.'”
Seattle Genetics is a good sized biotech company with nearly a $2 billion market cap, which seems particularly large when you consider that it doesn’t have any revenue to speak of (though that’s not at all unusual for pre-drug biotech companies). And they do have a lot riding on this one compound, it is on track for possible approval for relapsed patients for two lymphomas this year, but is also in studies, some advanced, as a front-line treatment for those and other indications, which would up the number of potential patients (also called “customers”) considerably. The other four drugs in their pipeline that have reached the clinical trial stage (meaning they’re being tested in humans, not just animals and petri dishes) are all in phase I, so they are probably at least several years from reaching the market, (assuming they’re successful — as, of course, most drugs are not).
Oh, and while this all sounds very good … it’s worth noting that there are quite a few folks also betting against the stock, at least as of a few weeks ago. Something like 15-20% of all outstanding shares are sold short, meaning those folks are betting that the stock will fall. That’s not necessarily a shockingly huge number for a biotech stock, but it does mean that at least some investors see the future as less than rosy — though optimists might also argue that it presents the possibility of a “short squeeze” if good news drives the price up enough that shorts have to cover their position by buying the stock, which then tends to drive the price up still further. Keep in mind that with a ~$2 billion valuation and no other drugs very far into the clinical pipeline, it seems likely that there’s already at least some more good news about brentuximab vedotin (like, say, FDA approval this Fall) “priced in” to SGEN stock.
So there you have it — a biotech stock that is pretty much guaranteed to have a lot of news this year, and clearly Patrick Cox expects the news to continue to be mostly good. I don’t know if he’s right or not, but I’m quite certain he’s talking about Seattle Genetics — if you’ve any expertise on this one, or want to share your inexpert opinion (that’s what I do — why not join in?) about their potential or prospects, please let us know with a comment below.
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