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Biotech Stock Mailbag: Oncothyreon, Amag, Keryx Hate Mail

Stocks in this article: ONTY KERX AEZS DSCO VSTM AMAG

Don't forget the rationale for the phase III Stimuvax trial came from a retrospective subset analysis of the phase II trial. Those kinds of analyses are always fraught with risk, so if Stimuvax fails for the final time next year, you won't be able to say that you weren't warned.

@OmatOye tweets, "What are your thoughts on AMAG's Feraheme trial?"

On Wednesday night, Amag Pharmaceuticals (AMAG) reported positive results from the first of two phase III studies of Feraheme in patients with iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) regardless of underlying cause. In the study, Feraheme was statistically non-inferior to Venofer but numerically better in boosting hemoglobin levels. Feraheme's safety profile looked in-line with what's already on the label for the approved kidney disease indication.

The best course of action of Amag is still to find a buyer for the company. The IDA trials make Feraheme a more attractive asset because it potentially doubles the addressable patient population for the iron replacement therapy. Thursday's positive data was good news.

"Biotech Toreador" fumes: "Four of the five banks who did the Verastem (VSTM) IPO come out with 'buys' exactly 40 days post-IPO (the minimum time period, per FINRA). How does the SEC not see this can't be random? Why do they even bother to pretend there is a separation between banking and research?"

You have a legitimate gripe. Savvy investors understand that investment banking and sell-side research are intertwined. It is no coincidence that all five (not just four) of the banks that took Verastem public in January have now published glowing, bullish research reports. UBS and Leerink Swann were the lead bankers on the Verastem IPO; the former slapped a "buy" rating and a $20 price target on the stock Wednesday, the latter initiated with an "outperform" and a $15 target.

Verastem is developing anti-cancer drugs based on cancer stem cells. Cool, but the company's entire pipeline is still in the preclinical stage. Initial data from phase I studies may not be ready for two years. Verastem already has a $200 million-plus market value.

If you went looking for evidentiary proof that either of these banks promised warm and fuzzy sell-side coverage in exchange for banking fees, you'd likely come up empty. The banks are smarter than that; we all know it still happens. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

I doubt you'll see a crackdown so the best you can do as an investor is recognize the biases that exist in much (but not all) sell-side research. After all, there's a reason they call it "sell-side."

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