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Biotech Stock Mailbag: Amarin or Arena Takeout?

For the record, my biotech acquisition predictions for 2012 were Seattle Genetics (SGEN), Celgene (CELG), Biomarin Pharmaceuticals (CELG), Amag Pharma (AMAG), Onyx Pharma (ONXX) and Momenta Pharma (MNTA). I'm still waiting for a winner.

@pauldavidson11 asks, "What are your thoughts regarding VVUS approval and ARNA share price?

My thoughts or predictions, in no particular order:

Vivus' (VVUS) weight-loss drug, Qnexa, will be approved on July 17, in line with consensus investor expectations.

Qnexa's approval is secondary in importance to the restrictions and warnings expected in the drug's label. Learning how restricted (or not) the Qnexa label reads is likely to play a big part in how investors react on July 17.

Vivus shares at Tuesday's close of $29.93 are up 30% since April 9, when the company announced the three-month extension of its FDA review. This looks very much like a classic "run-up" into FDA approval decisions, which is often followed by a sell off. Don't be surprised if Vivus shares fall following Qnexa's approval exactly like Arena Pharmaceuticals' stock price sank following FDA approval of Belviq on June 27.

On that subject: At Tuesday's close of $10.02, Arena is down 14% since Belviq's approval. [If you calculate from the intraday high on June 27, Arena shares are down 35%.] The only people surprised by this contraction are die-hard members of the Arena retail-investor cult. Everyone else was sensible enough to realize that the steep climb in Arena's stock price leading up to Belviq's approval was not sustainable.

I'm not a believer in the super-blockbuster (read: multi-billion dollar) sales potential for Qnexa or Belviq. Both drugs offer short-term weight loss (Qnexa more than Belviq) but patients end up yo-yoing back to their original obese state. Sales will disappoint relative to expectations.

Here's a scenario I expect to play out with about 70% of people who try Belviq: Obese woman visits doctor, asks for Belviq. Doctor prescribes Belviq. Woman pays $150 for a month of pills. Starts taking pills, weight doesn't come off so quickly, even though she's trying to eat better and walk around the block in addition to Belviq. Month two rolls around, woman pays another $150 for her Belviq supply. She's frustrated with only three pounds lost. Salads for lunch replaced once again by potato chips and fast food. Too tired to walk. Month three: Another $150 for Belviq! Ugh! Forgets to take pills several times a week. More fast food consumed. The lost pounds return. Visits doctor, who asks if she wants to continue paying $150 per month for a diet pill that's not working. The answer is obvious. Hell, no.

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