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Biotech Stock Mailbag: 2011 Report Card


BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Welcome to the post-Thanksgiving, intra-Black Friday Biotech Stock Mailbag 2011 review and report card.

I totally called Pharmasset's (VRUS) acquisition last January. Unfortunately, none of the other five bio-pharma takeout predictions I made at the same time -- Amarin (AMRN), Seattle Genetics (SGEN), Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX), Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) and Biomarin Pharmaceuticals (BMRN) -- came true. Maybe next year!

All joking aside, the Mailbag focused a lot on hepatitis C this year -- the biotech investment story of 2011 by a wide margin. In April, I called Pharmasset's remarkable stock run -- up 50% at that time to $78 per share -- justified and sustainable given the excitement around its oral Hep C drug candidates, most notably PSI-7977.

It's hard to believe now, but in April, Pharmasset's enterprise value was "only" $2.5 billion compared to Vertex Pharma's (VRTX) $9 billion. Vertex's Hep C drug Incivek wasn't even approved until May but already there were concerns being raised that Vertex's reign as king of the Hep C mountain might be short lived.

In this Mailbag, published right after an important European liver disease research meeting, I tried to help readers parse the rapidly changing Hep C treatment landscape:

"It sounds incredibly weird to even conjure this thought, but from Wall Street's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately perspective, Vertex's telaprevir and Merck's boceprevir look a bit old in the tooth even before the two drugs are approved!"

Regarding Vertex, I wrote:

"Vertex's dilemma is that investors know this story well and have baked much of telaprevir's potential into the company's valuation already. What concerns investors today and perhaps even more post-EASL is that the slope of the expected telaprevir revenue tail may be steeper than previously appreciated. Investors are also raising questions about what Vertex is doing to sustain its Hep C franchise in 2015 and beyond when new drugs are expected to enter the market."

The Mailbag's crystal ball wasn't always so prescient. I predicted Orexigen Therapeutics (OREX) would receive a "good" complete response letter from FDA for its obesity drug Contrave last January. "Good" meant FDA would not require Orexigen to conduct any pre-approval Contrave clinical studies.

Wrong. Not only did FDA reject Contrave, but the agency told Orexigen that the weight-loss drug wouldn't be approved until the company ran a 10,000 patient heart-safety study.

Advising reader Vince M. last February to be skeptical of micro-cap Radient Pharmaceuticals (RXPC) not only got the Hostile React-o-Meter spinning out of control, but was also the launching point for some of the most entertaining and hard-hitting reporting I published all year.

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