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Biotech Stock Mailbag: Astex Pharma, My Essential Twitter Follows

It's premature to say much of anything about SGI-110's activity in AML relative to Dacogen based on the paltry and incomplete data released by Astex on Wednesday. By the way, Astex said nothing about SGI-110's safety in Wednesday's release. We'll get a more accurate picture of SGI-110 at the ASH meeting in December when more AML data will be presented. Data from the MDS patient cohorts in the phase II study won't be reported until next year.

One last bone to pick: What compelled Astex to provide investors with a look at the SGI-110 data yesterday when the study isn't fully enrolled? Astex reported data on 17 elderly, treatment-naive AML patients. Why not wait until all 50 patients in this cohort were enrolled and followed for a sufficient time?

"The data was material and ASH just cleared us for top-line data release without violating the embargo," Astex spokesman Tim Enns told me via email. He added: "9/17 treatment naive overall response or 53% is very material."

Okay, but Astex didn't specifically mention the 53% response rate in Wednesday's press release. If this data point was so material news for investors, why omit it?

And how could results from an incomplete cohort of a mid-stage study be material information when investors had no expectations of seeing data until December?

Here's Astex CEO James Manuso speaking about the SGI-110 phase II study on the company's second-quarter conference call Aug. 1:

"We are also on track to present data from the AML patients in the Phase II expansion segment of the trial at the ASH meeting in December."

On the same call, Astex Chief Medical Officer Mohammad Azab addressed the same issue:

"Preliminary SGI-110 Phase II AML data will be submitted for presentation at the American Society of Hematology, or ASH, conference in December, and additional data on other patient cohorts will be submitted for presentations at later meetings like AACR and ASCO conferences next year."

Huh. No mention at all that investors should expect an interim release of SGI-110 data in the third quarter. Unless Astex felt the need to give its stock price a little pop?

Mission accomplished.

It's Labor Day weekend, so let's veer away from individual stocks to talk about my growing admiration for the biotech Twitterverse.

I meant what I tweeted Wednesday night. Sincerely. Instead of "skeptics" I could have said "independent thinkers." The high level of analysis and insight into biotech stocks being discussed on Twitter these days -- MannKind (MNKD), Arena Pharma (ARNA - Get Report), Pharmacyclics (PCYC), Celgene (CELG - Get Report), to name a few -- is surpassing anything you'll hear or read from the sell side and in many instances rivals buyside analysis. For a long time, Twitter was mainly the place for traders to keep tabs on hot stocks. Today, I'm seeing tweets from people expertly versed in deep fundamental analysis of clinical data and financial information. "Bio-Twitter" is maturing into an absolutely essentially investment resource.
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