I went back and re-read all the Biotech Mailbag columns written in 2008 and was amazed to see that I wrote about 65 different biotech companies this year, many of them several times. My thanks and gratitude go out to all the readers who emailed questions and comments this year. The Biotech Mailbag would be rather anemic if it weren't for your passion and curiosity. The Mailbag in 2008 had its share of hits and misses. I managed to please a lot of you; others couldn't stand some of the things I wrote and let me know it in no uncertain terms. Elan ( ELN) received more play in the Mailbag this year than any other stock, mainly due to my ongoing (and quite skeptical) coverage of the company's experimental Alzheimer's disease drug bapineuzumab. The "Elanians" -- followers and fans of Elan -- are a vocal bunch, for sure. I made some stock calls this year in the Mailbag. Some worked, others didn't. Readers and I had a multi-Mailbag debate over the approvability of Vanda Pharmaceuticals' ( VNDA) schizophrenia drug iloperidone. Many readers were optimistic about FDA approval. I wasn't, mainly because iloperidone seemed like a "me-too" drug with poorer safety and worse side effects. In the end, the FDA chose not to approve the drug. Earlier in the year, I highlighted Middlebrook Pharmaceuticals ( MBRK) because I thought an acquisition of the company would double the stock price. That takeout never happened. Bad call. I also thought that Cardiome ( CRME) and its partner Astellas would be successful in getting their anti-arrhythmia drug Kynapid approved by the FDA, even through a year's worth of regulatory delays. To date, Kynapid is still not approved.
I ticked off a lot of Cell Genesys ( CEGE) shareholders this year after predicting doom and failure for the company's prostate cancer vaccine. Along the way, I got to discuss the importance of randomized clinical trials and why big-buck alliances with large drug companies don't always guarantee success. In the end, Cell Genesys and its prostate cancer vaccine program blew up. The Mailbag this year also offered me an opportunity to discuss some important macro issues facing the biotech sector. In March, I wrote about how Wall Street's biotech investing pros were faring badly and were nervous about the outlook for the rest of the year. I had no idea at the time how painfully true that observation would turn out to be. Also in March, I warned against investing too heavily in small-cap biotech stocks in 2008 due to the market's aversion to risk. While no one was spared pain this year, small-cap biotech stocks did end up suffering more than their big-cap brethren. One thing I really like about writing the Mailbag is that it gives me a chance to research stocks that would otherwise fall off my radar screen. Readers of the Mailbag have a knack for finding small, sometimes obscure, biotech stocks. So, this year, I got to write about Delcath Systems ( DCTH), Genvec ( GNVC), Regenerex Biopharma ( RGN), Oramed ( ORMP) and NeurogesX ( NGSX), among others. The Mailbag, naturally, devoted a great deal of space to big-cap biotech as well, including Gilead Sciences ( GILD), Biogen Idec ( BIIB), Genentech ( DNA) and Amgen ( AMGN). I discussed, among other topics, whether any of these large biotech companies would be acquired in 2008. None were, although Roche is trying with Genentech -- a topic I'm sure will be covered in future Mailbags.
A Mailbag review column wouldn't be complete without a mention of Introgen Therapeutics ( INGN.PK), which provided much comedic and instructional fodder for how to avoid bad biotech investments. Introgen is now in bankruptcy, alas, so the Mailbag will have to find new biotech stocks to kick around. Biotech loves controversy, and so does the Mailbag, so in 2009, I hope to continue to answer your questions, absorb your criticisms and savor your praise. More than anything, I hope the Mailbag helps to make some sense out of biotech investing. Thanks again for all your emails this year, and my apologies for the many emails I couldn't find time to answer. I'll try to get to as many of them as possible in 2009. Happy New Year and, please, keep those emails coming.