SAN FRANCISCO -- The curtain has fallen on the 20th annual JPMorgan H&Q health care conference.
was, of course, the big newsmaker, but there were plenty ofother companies making noise, both good and bad.
had its notebook open; here's what we jotted down:
The Best Friend They Never Had
A lot has been made of the deafening silenceemanating from
regarding its partner ImClone Systems and the Erbitux mess. Well, Bristol-Myers was scheduled to appear at the conference, but apparently dropped out at the last minute.
A version of the conference calendar from just a few days before the start of the event event, obtained by
, had Bristol-Myers scheduled for a presentation at 10 a.m. PST on Wednesday, 30 minutes before ImClone was set to take the stage. But in the final version of the calendar, Bristol-Myers was nowhere to be seen.
An H&Q spokeswoman says that, to her knowledge,Bristol-Myers was never scheduled, and she doesn'tknow why the company would have been on the earlier calendar.
But even if you discount the ImClone connection, the drug giant's absence still seems strange. After all, every other major pharmaceutical company, from
American Home Products
was here. So, why did Bristol-Myers give H&Q the cold shoulder?
Talk Is Cheap, Whiskey Costs Money
Another important lesson from ImClone: Be carefulof making promises you can't keep.
During his presentation Wednesday, Mark Levin, the very enthusiastic CEO of
, remarked that his company's gene-to-patient technologywould turbo-charge drug-development productivity tolevels never before seen in the industry. Just howproductive? Well, he predicted that by 2005,Millennium would be pushing one or two new drugs every year onto the market, while keeping the pipeline brimming with at least five experimental drugsentering human clinical trials every year.
The prediction enlisted some wide-eyed stares from the audience, even a few snickers, because so far,Millennium's genomics platform has managed tomove only a single drug into human testing. Sure,Millennium has a lot of other drugs on its plate, but they've all come from old-fashioned acquisitions and partnerships, not exactly the most cutting-edge way to build the pharmaceutical firm of the next century.
The Closed-Door Policy
executives: Read upon Regulation FD.
The blood substitute company --
no stranger to readersof
-- triedto have this reporter removed from its breakout session withfund managers on Monday. The reporter refused to leave. After abrief argument, the company backed down when H&Q officials said that reporters had every rightto attend the question-and-answer session, where most of the good stuff at the conference happens.
Afterwards, a representative from Biopure's publicrelations firm dismissed the whole thing as amisunderstanding. Yeah, right.
The Wedding Planners
(made their presence felt at the conference this year.
Both companies were, of course, pushing the merits of their recently announced $16 billion merger. But more interesting was the bullish talk about the push to expand the rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel intopsoriasis.
Immunex will be presenting results from late-stagetests of Enbrel in psoriasis at the big dermatologyscience meeting in February. The chatter at H&Q: The Enbrel psoriasis data are going to be great, which will spur dermatologists to start prescribing Enbrel to their psoriasis patients even before the FDA officially approves the drug for use in the disease.
And if this scenario plays out, it could spelltrouble for
both of which have their own psoriasisdrugs in development. Biogen's Amevive is beingreviewed by the Food and Drug Administration right now, and was supposed tohave first-mover advantage. That would be blunted if Enbrel racks up significant off-label sales among dermatologists.
And woe is Genentech and its drug Xanelim, which already has been hit with delays and is not expectedto reach the FDA until this summer.
Speaking of Genentech, 2002 is looking like alean year. The biotech giant won't have any new drugsapproved this year because of filing delays for theabove-mentioned Xanelim and the asthma drug Xolair.
Genentech does have the blockbuster cancer drugRituxan to cushion the blow, and there surely will benews coming out of the company's research pipeline,which is the strongest in the biotech industry.
But still, there was a sense of unease among some fundmanagers at the conference about Genentech's abilityto maintain earnings growth without some big eventthis year -- namely a large acquisition.
Genentech certainly has the cash and stock to pull offa deal, but the company's executives didn't exactlygive off any signals that they were getting ready topull the trigger either. Genentech COO Myrtle Pottercommented that companies are making acquisitions tofill voids in their drug pipelines -- that's not aproblem at Genentech. And CFO Louis Lavigne added thathe, quite frankly, scratched his head over the logicof some of the recent mergers.
Maybe Somebody Needed a Nap
CEO Louis Langejust having a cranky day Monday when he was seenberating a fund manager after she asked one too manyquestions about the company's experimental anginadrug Ranolazine? Or maybe the fund manager hit anerve?