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At NeoPharm, the Buck Stops Before Kapoor

NeoPharm's (NEOL) largest shareholder, founder and recently deposed chairman John Kapoor believes the drug company's four independent directors are doing a poor job. So he's asking shareholders to vote them out; in their places, Kapoor wants to install his own handpicked slate of directors.

While it's hard to find good things to say about the stewardship of NeoPharm's current board, Kapoor is no white knight, either. He's just as culpable for the company's current woes as anyone else, which should give investors pause before they decide whether to put him back in charge.

To this point, NeoPharm is a drug company that has been better at losing money and attracting the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission vs. actually developing any of the cancer-fighting drugs in its pipeline. Kapoor and his wife collectively own 21.7% of NeoPharm.

In May, a panel of arbitrators dismissed a contract dispute between NeoPharm and Pharmacia -- now Pfizer (PFE) -- in which NeoPharm was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The company got nothing, but public comments made by NeoPharm regarding this dispute prompted the SEC to initiate a formal investigation, which is still ongoing. In June, CEO Jim Hussey resigned and Kapoor was forced out of his job as the company's chairman, although he remained a director.

NeoPharm shares have plunged from a 52-week high of $22.70 to a low of $4.66 on Aug. 24. The stock closed Wednesday down 26 cents, or 4%, to $6.24.

On Sept. 2, Kapoor filed a preliminary consent statement with the SEC, claiming that four of NeoPharm's six directors have failed in their duty to oversee management. Specifically, Kapoor claims that NeoPharm is burning too much cash and is too slow in developing its lead brain tumor drug, IL-13PE38. (For my previous take on why this drug and its ongoing phase III study is high risk, click here .)

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