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Media Embargo Secrets Exposed: How and Why Companies Share Stock-Moving News

Stocks in this article: VVUS ARNA VRTX ALKS ONXX JNJ NPSP OREX

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- I'm going to let you in on a big secret: Publicly traded companies routinely share material, stock-moving information in advance and under embargo with reporters and sell-side analysts.

"Under embargo" is important: It means that in exchange for a sneak peek at data from important clinical trials (to use an example), reporters and analysts are not allowed to discuss, share or publish stories or reports based on the embargoed information until it is announced publicly.

Needless to say, reporters and analysts aren't supposed to trade on the embargoed, material information either -- lest they run afoul of insider-trading laws.

Shocked? Surprised? Don't be. Embargoed, "pre-briefs" between companies and reporters/analysts are a very common practice. They happen every day. Most recently, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) called me to share and discuss data on its cystic fibrosis drugs the night before the company released the same data in a press release. Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX), Ariad Pharmaceuticals (ARIA), NPS Pharmaceuticals (NPSP), Alkermes (ALKS), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Exelixis (EXEL) are just some of the biotech and drug firms that have shared material information with me under embargo.

The Next Big Thing in Biotech: Vivus

It's not just companies who eagerly and enthusiastically provide reporters with advanced access to important information under embargo. Every Friday, I receive via email an advanced copy of the following week's New England Journal of Medicine -- before it's mailed out to subscribers. All major scientific and medical research journals provide the same service to members of the media. Likewise, groups which run the big medical conferences -- American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Diabetes Association, the American College of Cardiology, etc. -- all provide reporters embargoed access to the splashiest, most important clinical data early.

Why am I spilling the beans on this nice media perk? Because sometimes the practice goes horribly wrong, as it did Tuesday around noon when USA Today published early and accidentally a story announcing the approval of Vivus' (VVUS) weight-loss pill Qsymia. In media jargon, USA Today "broke" the embargo and in doing so, caused hours of confusion and havoc for investors who didn't know whether the Vivus approval story was true or a hoax. Trading in competing weight-loss stocks Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) and Orexigen Therapeutics (OREX) was also affected.

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