Welcome back to the Biotech Mailbag, where I answer your questions and hold myself accountable to your scrutiny. I love getting mail, so please write me here.

Before I get to your mail, a lot of readers have requested a biotech event calendar. I put one together this week, so make sure you check it out here.

Jason from Seattle (Is he sleepless, too?) writes in about Dendreon ( DNDN). "I see that they have priority review. The large short position could be a huge catalyst if we hear more positive news when the FDA panel meets to discuss Provenge. What has your research discovered about Dendreon?"

Dendreon is really shaping up to be one of the best biotech stories of the year. All of the elements are there: a first-in-class drug (in this case, Provenge, a cancer vaccine); a controversial clinical data package that includes a survival benefit, albeit one with some statistical noise around it; a looming FDA advisory panel meeting (now set for March 29); a stock at $4 that could rip or roll over depending on the outcome of that meeting; and as Jason notes, a big short interest -- 20 million shares on a 71-million-share float.

The details of the Provenge story really deserve a separate column (or two or three), so I'll get cracking on that. I have followed the drug for a long time, so here's my quick take: The four-and-a-half-month survival benefit seen in advanced prostate cancer patients given the Provenge vaccine compared to placebo is intriguing, to say the least. There have been many efforts to debunk the data, without much luck.

On the other hand, the phase III study producing that benefit was pretty small. And let's not forget that survival was not the primary endpoint of the study, which brings up all kinds of statistical concerns.

I've had a chance to discuss the data with a number of prostate cancer doctors over the last two years or so, and generally speaking, they're intrigued (there's that word again) by the drug, but they also have doubts. Many have told me that more data and another clinical trial would help assuage those doubts. Dendreon has just such a study underway.

So, does Provenge get approved now? Or does the FDA hold off, waiting for more confirmatory data in a year or two? On these questions, my crystal ball gets cloudy. Does it matter that there hasn't been a new prostate cancer drug approved in years, or that Provenge has a remarkably clean safety profile? I really have no idea.

Thursday's announcement by Dendreon that the biologics and vaccine branch of the FDA has control of the review and will be holding the advisory panel meeting on March 29 is a positive shot in the arm. The other side of the FDA -- the "drug" people, which includes the cancer division -- are typically a lot tougher to impress. But since Provenge is a cancer vaccine, expect significant input and participation from the cancer division. Plus, cancer experts will be participating at the March 29 meeting for sure.

I hope Jason and the many others who've written in about Dendreon aren't disappointed in my wimping out on making a prediction. I just don't know. But I do promise to come back with more on the story before the March 29 meeting.


J.F. writes: "I read your Biotech Mailbag religiously. I am looking for your technical analysis on the future of Threshold's glufosfamide regarding the various cancer programs."

First off, J.F., thanks for reading. Unfortunately, I don't see much value in Threshold Therapeutics ( THLD), or its cancer drug glufosfamide. J.F.'s email came in a couple of days after the company announced the failure of a phase III study of glufosfamide in second-line pancreatic cancer patients.

The company has some positive phase II data with a glufosfamide/gemcitabine combination in newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer, but the study is small, uncontrolled and there was even a hint of safety problem with some potential renal toxicity. Threshold also recently started a couple of other phase II studies of the drug in small-cell lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

But would I be optimistic about any of this? Probably not.


G.G. isn't happy with me. "Why don't you come clean and name the shorts that you write for? Think your mother is proud of you? Surely, if you looked hard enough, you could find something positive to say about some company!"

At least G.G. didn't curse. Most of these people type a blue streak. I often have to make sure my daughter's not around when I'm reading my email.

Sorry, G.G., but I don't write for the shorts. I'm opinionated for sure, and sometimes those opinions are negative. I cash a paycheck from TheStreet.com every two weeks, and I don't own or short any stocks, per our conflict of interest policy, which you can read here.

And most definitely, my mother is proud of me. (Hi, Mom!)

As for saying something positive, I like Altus Pharmaceuticals ( ALTU) for reasons explained here. Additionally, Onyx Pharmaceuticals ( ONXX) looks really good now that Nexavar works in liver cancer.

If Vertex Pharmaceuticals ( VRTX) succeeds with telaprevir for hepatitis C, the stock will be huge. Advanced Magnetics ( AMAG), and its injectable iron replacement therapy ferumoxytol, has produced some really positive data and could take over what is a growing market.

Finally, an update on my Jan. 16 biotech "homework" column: On Thursday, Point Therapeutics ( POTP) announced the failure of a phase II trial of Talabostat plus gemcitabine in patients with pancreatic cancer. The negative result isn't surprising to anyone who followed my research methods in that column.

Please note that due to factors including low market capitalization and/or insufficient public float, we consider Dendreon, Threshold Pharmaceuticals, Altus Pharmaceuticals and Point Therapeutics to be small-cap stocks. You should be aware that such stocks are subject to more risk than stocks of larger companies, including greater volatility, lower liquidity and less publicly available information, and that postings such as this one can have an effect on their stock prices.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for RealMoney.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

More from Stocks

Jim Cramer on Foot Locker's Earnings: Nike Is a Buy

Jim Cramer on Foot Locker's Earnings: Nike Is a Buy

Stocks Trade Mixed, Energy Shares Fall on Sharp Drop in Oil Prices

Stocks Trade Mixed, Energy Shares Fall on Sharp Drop in Oil Prices

Video: Jim Cramer on the Markets, 10-Year Yield, Oil Prices and Foot Locker

Video: Jim Cramer on the Markets, 10-Year Yield, Oil Prices and Foot Locker

Top U.S. Regulators May Be Sowing the Seeds of the Next Financial Crisis

Top U.S. Regulators May Be Sowing the Seeds of the Next Financial Crisis

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 4.8 Million Vehicles Over Cruise Control Issue

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 4.8 Million Vehicles Over Cruise Control Issue