Drug & Biotech Notebook: Tobias Dumps Lilly Stock

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CEO of Lilly Pads His Coffer

For the first time since joining

Eli Lilly

(LLY) - Get Report

in 1986, Randall Tobias sold some of his shares in the drug company.

On Feb. 19, the chairman and chief executive registered to exercise options on 125,000 shares and sell them off. Because Tobais' filing with the

Securities and Exchange Commission

was his intention to sell (which insiders typically do

after

they've sold), rather than the form that says, "I've sold," the exercise price and the price that he sold at are unknown. But a spokesman said he has already sold. Lilly was trading around 60 1/2 a share on Feb 19; Thursday, after being buffeted about due to the launch of

Evista

, the osteoporosis drug that would be

Men in Black

for women in gray (hair), Lilly stock was trading around 65 1/2.

Tobias now has 2.2 million options and 356,073 shares, according to Ed West, a spokesman for the drug giant.

"It's interesting that he sold shares now after not having sold shares for such a long time," says Stacey Griffen, an analyst for insider-sales tracker

CDA Investnet

.

West says that Tobias sold for "estate planning reasons and to fund his charitable contributions." Tobias sold during Lilly's "window," a period in which insiders are allowed to sell. For Lilly, that period is two weeks before the end of a quarter until the beginning of the second full business day after the earnings announcement.

The sale comes right as Evista is being launched, which is going more slowly than some expected. "That's purely coincidental with the window opening," says West. The data on the Evista scrips was "highly public information to begin with. There was no opportunity for profit taking," for Tobias, adding that Evista "is going to be a very big drug for us."

West said that "we are looking at our product being in line with our expectations of $200 million to $400 million this year," which, especially if Evista hits the top of that range, would be a very big drug indeed.

Pathogenesis Update

A letter in the British medical journal

The Lancet

suggests that the best-selling antibiotic in the U.S. can improve lung function in cystic fibrosis patients. The antibiotic, a once-a-day pill called

Zithromax

, made by

Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

, can be used to treat the infections caused by the bacterium pseudomonas. That finding, while only in a letter rather than in an article on a controlled clinical trial, suggests that Zithromax can yield similar results to

Pathogenesis'

(PGNS)

TOBI

.

Seven CF patients' breathing -- measured by forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) -- improved 11% in six months, according to the letter. In TOBI's trials, FEV1 also improved by 11% in six months. Acute treatment with Zithromax might run around $1,500 a year, compared with the twice-a-day inhaled TOBI's roughly $11,000 a year.

"Our findings suggest that long-term azithromycin

Zithromax's drug name may improve lung function in children with CF," wrote the authors, from

Royal Brompton Hospital

in London.

Still, sweeping conclusions about the data would be premature. For one, it's unwarranted to compare two different studies. Also, the Lancet letter was based on results from a limited number of patients and was not a controlled trial. The results call for further study, the authors say.

The results are simply "just one more little piece of information" on the group of antibiotics to which Zithromax belongs, says Dr. Allen Lapey, a cystic fibrosis specialist at

Massachusetts General

. "There will not be a stampede to use these drugs

in CF patients. I don't think it's a major threat to TOBI. It's not even a minor threat," he says. There's a groundswell for a major clinical trial in the area, says Lapey.

But it is something to keep an eye on. PGNS was trading at 37 1/16, fractionally lower since a

TSC

story questioned whether TOBI sales could support the company's valuation.

Scios Has a Pulse

Scios

(SCIO)

, a sleepy biotech that has long been abandoned by mainstream Wall Street, has been actively traded after an abstract from the upcoming

American College of Cardiology

meeting showed promise for

Natrecor

in acute congestive heart failure. The abstract -- making the rounds on the Street since late last week -- was on 123 patients, 43 who got a low-dose and 43 who got a higher dose. It shows that the low dose led to a 20% drop in pressure on the heart (called pulmonary capillary wedge pressure) and a 31.6% drop in the high-dose, which investors have been impressed by. There was a 5% improvement in the heart's pumping in the low-dose and a 20% improvement in the high-dose.

Scios stock was trading at 10 5/16 Thursday afternoon.

* * * * *

Random Musings:

The rumor going around is that

Cephalon

(CEPH)

will have a third -- count 'em, third -- advisory panel meeting for myotrophin, the Lou Gehrig's disease drug that won't die. Is this some "Three Strikes and You're Out" provision of the new FDA reform bill?

Drug analysts and investors have been speculating that

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

might team up with

Schering-Plough

(SGP)

to co-promote its new asthma drug,

Singulair

. SGP has the best respiratory sales force in the industry, with

Claritin

, the multi-billion dollar allergy drug, as its foundation. But Merck dismisses the rumor: "We have no plans to co-promote this product," says a company spokesman.