) -- The 2012 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is in the books. Here's what I learned:

It was good week for biotech stocks, with the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index up 5% versus a 1% gain for the S&P 500. The best-performing stocks were all hepatitis C related (no surprise) --


( INHX),

Idenix Pharmaceuticals



Achillion Pharmaceuticals

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Idenix Pharmaceuticals executives exit the J.P. Morgan conference and head back to Cambridge still independent -- for now. My

tweet Tuesday

in which I relayed the prediction (not rumor, just a prediction) of a Hep C bull that


(MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Report

would buy Idenix and its oral Hep C "nuc" IDX184 for $3 billion threw gas on what was already a raging bonfire of M&A speculation around the stock.

IDX184 critics were easy to find in the halls of the conference this week, but their side-eye glances over Idenix's attractiveness were easily overwhelmed by those who simply believe the arms-race for an all-oral Hep C regimen is far from over. One of the big Hep C players -- Merck,

Johnson & Johnson

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-- will swallow hard and pay up big to acquire Idenix, the IDX184 fans believe.

The only thing I know for sure about Hep C after a week in which it was the No. 1 topic of chatter is that we don't know anything for sure about Hep C. Expect many more twists and turns.


(VVUS) - Get VIVUS, Inc. Report

: On Monday, I


that Qnexa could be the first weight-loss drug (or first drug of any kind) approved not by FDA but by Congress. I was only half joking. I leave San Francisco and this conference believing Vivus has a very real chance of landing a Qnexa approval. Why? Because I believe members of Congress (and perhaps others) are applying backdoor pressure on FDA to approve an obesity drug.

I'm not a big promoter of conspiracy theories but politics can play a role in FDA regulatory decisions.

The recent thwarted effort to loosen restrictions on the Plan B contraceptive is a prime example. Qnexa is an effective weight-loss drug, that's never been in dispute. The pill's safety has always been the issue. But if FDA is pushed to deem Qnexa "safe enough," the drug could be approved. The salve for FDA's pride will likely be a restrictive risk-management plan.

By the way, I am far from being the first person to come to this conclusion, and in fact, I've been stubbornly against the idea of Qnexa's approval for months. If it does happen, I'll be wrong first, right second.

The first legitimate holes in the "short the drug launch" trade emerged this week.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

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posts strong early sales of its eye drug Eylea;



appears to have figured out how to sell Provenge; strong 2012 Ampyra sales guidance from

Acorda Therapeutics

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Esbriet patient numbers from Germany didn't suck.

Perhaps investors will start buying drug launches again in 2012? The first big test could come later this month when FDA approves the diabetes drug Bydureon. Yes, Bydureon will be approved, said


(ALKS) - Get Alkermes Plc Report

CEO Richard Pops, who believes his partner

Amylin Pharmaceuticals

( AMLN) has done everything necessary to assuage FDAs concerns.

After approval comes the Bydureon launch.

"Bears are lined up on Bydureon. Expectations are way down. The bears are winning right now so we'll see. This will be really interesting. The sentiment is so negative, if they

Amylin defy expectations and beat it I think that will be game changer," said Pops.

During his own presentation slot, Pops reminded investors, and rightly so, that what's good for Acorda and Ampyra is also good for Alkermes, since it receives a healthy royalty on worldwide sales. The Alkermes story is a smart one -- a growing royalty-based revenue stream that is funding a pipeline of new drugs with big potential.


(MNKD) - Get MannKind Corporation Report




Onyx Pharmaceuticals


: Carfilzomib is a drug. Yes, approval will be later than expected but the company will be sold in 2012. Finally.

I feel better about


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today, particularly the issue of New Chemical Entity (NCE) status for AMR101, than I did when I got here. Read my account of Monday's

Amarin breakout session.

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in San Francisco.

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Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback;

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