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TheStreet Open House

Biotech Stock Mailbag: Northwest Bio, Amarin, Titan Pharma

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Natalia opens this week's Biotech Stock Mailbag with a question about Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBO):

"I took extra-special interest in your comments in response to a reader's question regarding ImmunoCellular Therapeutics (IMUC) in your last Mailbag, and was wondering if you had a similar view on Northwest Biotheraputics given its similar product offering. This is a stock I have been following for the past two years, and would love to hear your thoughts if you have looked into it."

I'm skeptical about ImmunoCellular but with an open mind waiting for data at year's end from the first adequately designed study of ICT-107. Northwest Biotherapeutics is much more difficult to take seriously given the company's checkered past and present.

Northwest Bio operates today with a veneer of respectability. The company's balance sheet is healthier (but far from robust) and the stock now lists on the Nasdaq. Scratch the surface, however, and Northwest Bio still carries the heavy baggage that's made it a pariah for so many years.

Linda Powers remains CEO and dominant shareholder through two intertwined entities she controls -- Toucan Capital and Cognate Bioservices. (The latter is Northwest Bio's manufacturing partner, which puts more money in her pocket.) Institutional investor ownership is essentially non-existent at 6%. Even the current stock price of $3.36 is an illusion. Adjust for the recent 1-for-16 reverse stock split and Northwest Bio is a penny stock.

Smart investors shun Northwest Bio because Powers spends a majority of her time promoting the stock instead of directing credible drug development. Case in point: Powers claims the company's cancer immunotherapy DCVax demonstrated a large and statistically significant survival benefit in a couplet of phase I brain tumor (glioblastoma mulitforme, or GBM) studies.

The DCVax GBM survival chart Powers shows to investors and includes in the company's SEC filings looks impressive:

The blue line represents survival of the 20 GBM patients treated with DCVax; median overall survival is 36.4 months. These data were collected from single-arm studies, meaning all the patients received DCVax. There was no placebo or other control treatments to compare against the DCVax survival results.

The red dotted line in the chart above represents overall survival data from 119 "matched patients." Northwest Bio claims these "matched patients" had a median overall survival of 17 months, implying a 19.4-month survival benefit favoring DCVax. Moreover, Northwest Bio actually runs a statistical analysis and finds the DCVax survival benefit is highly statistically significant with a p value of 0.0003.

This DCVax overall survival analysis is sloppy, wrong and wildly misleading.

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