BOSTON (TheStreet) -- I typically write the bulk of the Biotech Stock Mailbag on Thursday, so as I type, the markets are in meltdown and a conflagration has consumed the biotech sector. Memo to Dendreon (DNDN) CEO Mitch Gold: Nice timing, my friend. Real nice.
It's unfair to lay all the blame for the "end of biotech as we know it" at Dendreon's doorstep, but I don't believe we'd be experiencing such a sharp, swift and broad selloff had Dendreon pulled off a normal quarter. The Provenge miscue spooked a lot of biotech investors who were already on edge.
In my Dendreon column Thursday, I wrote, "The ill effects of the Dendreon debacle will unfortunately spread beyond the company's stock price and its shareholders to infect the entire biotech sector."
To which Brandon M. comments, "Disasters of this magnitude raise the question of whether the biotech sector is even investable for individuals/home gamers because even if you pick the right company, right drug and get the timing correct through the myriad of approvals with the FDA etc., the follow-on execution risks are just as daunting…"How many times does lightning have to strike in a biotech stock for people to make enough money to offset all the misses? Well, for those who play on the wrong side, the ratio just went the wrong way ... again. Doesn't this raise a fundamental question as to whether the commercial development model needs tweaking as far as capital markets are concerned? If Provenge is a miracle drug but withers on the vine because it costs $93,000, where are we?" I've reached a point at which it feels safer not to recommend, write about or even whisper the name of a biotech company about to embark on a drug launch. Dendreon may turn out to be the biggest biotech drug-launch flop in history, rivaling the Medimmune Flumist disaster (thanks for reminding me of that one, Lazard's Joel Sendek); or if you want to extend the category, there's the Pfizer (PFE)-Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR) Exubera fiasco. Biotech investing is hard, but biotech investing after a drug approval and/or right before a drug launch has become impossible, unless you're short, which seems as risk-free as investing in T-bills, with much higher returns. I thought Amag Pharmaceuticals (AMAG) would do well launching Feraheme. Wrong! I was bullish on Allos Therapeutics (ALTH) going into the Folotyn launch. Wrong! More recently, I thought Optimer Pharmaceuticals (OPTR) would hold up well as preparations for the Dificid launch gets under way. Wrong again! I finally learned my lesson and got one right with Seattle Genetics (SGEN), warning folks that the stock was expensive ahead of the likely approval of Adcetris later this month. Brandon raises a good question. The relationship between the capital markets, i.e., investors and companies entering the commercial phase of their lifespan does seem broken. Why? I don't know for sure, but it may relate to the shortsighted or short-term nature of biotech investing these days. Long-term investing seems extinct, with investors morphing into traders only interested in the next catalyst -- clinical trial results, FDA advisory panels, drug approval decisions.
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