The Biotech Stock Mailbag is open a day ahead of schedule so everyone can enjoy the long holiday weekend. Tory K. kicks things off with this email: " Spectrum Pharmaceuticals ( SPPI) raised $21 million right before the FDA is supposed to decide on the approval of Zevalin. That's a bad sign, right?" Normally, I'd agree, but in this case, I'd say that Spectrum's management was taking rightful advantage of what has been a lucky, albeit fundamentally unjustified, run-up in the company's stock price since May. In that time, the stock has jumped from $2.50 to almost $8. Management would be criminally negligent if it didn't pounce on the opportunity to sell stock and raise cash. So, I say bravo, Spectrum. The FDA is expected to issue an approval decision tonight on a label expansion for Zevalin that should allow the drug to be used by a much larger number of patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A full FDA approval seems like a no-brainer based on my read of the Zevalin data supporting the label expansion filing. But let's not forget that Zevalin is a very effective cancer drug today that almost no one uses. (I wrote about some of the reasons why back in March.) Sales last year were only $12 million, down from sales of $17 million and $18 million in 2007 and 2006, respectively. Three different companies have tried to make Zevalin a commercial success but failed. The expanded label should help Spectrum put Zevalin on a firmer commercial footing and perhaps even start to grow sales again. I've talked to management previously about their marketing plans for the drug, and I walked away impressed.
But it's still a long way from $12 million in annual sales to the roughly $80 million in annual sales baked into Spectrum's current valuation. That's why I think the run in the stock these past few months is a bit premature. (I didn't touch on Spectrum's other cancer drug, Fusilev, but I feel the same way about it, too.) Given the frothiness in Spectrum's stock price of late, I won't be surprised to see a significant sell-on-the-news reaction if/when a positive FDA decision is announced. If that happens, I'd be interested in taking another look at the stock. Israel S. writes, "Could you please explain how the one-year price target of $50 for Cell Therapeutics ( CTIC) is calculated? Going back to your writing, which I agree with 100%, but I still see the $50 target. Does this mean that I should not take this parameter into consideration?" At first I didn't know where Israel was getting a $50 price target for Cell Therapeutics, but then I scrolled through the company's Yahoo! Finance page and found it -- a $50 price target from one unnamed analyst. That has to be a typo because a $50 price target for Cell Therapeutics implies a $24 billion valuation. To put that in perspective, a $24 billion market cap would rank Cell Therapeutics third in the entire biotech sector, ahead of Celgene ( CELG) ($22 billion market cap), Genzyme ( GENZ) ($15 billion market cap) and Biogen Idec ( BIIB) ($13 billion market cap.) Sorry, but no one in their right minds would have a $50 price target for Cell Therapeutics.
My price target for Cell Therapeutics: 20 to 30 cents a share. Keith S. writes, "I would greatly appreciate it and it would lend more to your credibility as a financial journalist if you disclosed your position and TheStreet.com's positions on these companies you like to slam. Would you care to comment on that?" I've gone over this many times in the past, but once more won't hurt. I don't own individual stocks. I don't short individual stocks. I'm not invested in any investment partnerships or funds that own or short individual stocks. You can read TheStreet.com's conflict of interest policy for employees (of which I am one) right here. I've received many emails from people claiming that because traders like Tim Sykes appear on our site talking about shorting stocks like Hemispherx Biopharma ( HEB) or Cell Therapeutics, this proves either TheStreet.com or I am purposefully manipulating stocks for personal gain. Not true. TheStreet.com, as a company, doesn't take positions in stocks. Sykes is an outside columnist, or contributor, to TheStreet.com, which means he is not employed by the company and is therefore not covered under our conflict of interest rules. What all outside contributors to TheStreet.com must do, including Sykes, is disclose his stock holdings, long or short, whenever he writes for us, or appears in a video. And for the record, I've never met Sykes, never spoken with him, never exchanged emails with him. The only way Sykes and I are collaborating is if he's teleporting his thoughts and stock recommendations into my head while I sleep.
These disclosures may disappoint the conspiracy theorists out there, but the truth is the truth. This week's column concerning the stem-cell infrastructure deal between Geron ( GERN) and the health care unit of General Electric ( GE) sparked a heavy dose of email. From Mick M.: "You must be willing to commit career suicide. GE owns CNBC who your boss works for. GE and Geron are now partners. You just bashed the company your parent company is working with. Best of luck with that." And John C. writes, "You are certainly clear in your bias to be short Geron. I guess you have not been a student of the biotech industry too long. I have over 20 years covering the biotech industry and it is utterly irresponsible to make such erroneous and inflammatory statements about a company. You should know better." To address Mick's point, my boss works for TheStreet.com, which has nothing to do with GE. The chairman of TheStreet.com, Jim Cramer, also works for CNBC, which is owned by GE. If you think Cramer is going to worry about me writing skeptically about a partner of a unit of GE, then you clearly don't know Cramer. As for John, perhaps he's been covering biotech too long because he sounds like a homer. I've been following Geron for a long time, too, but I've never actually witnessed the company accomplish much of anything. That's certainly true when it comes to creating shareholder value (relative to the hundreds of millions of dollars of investor cash spent so far).
If and when Geron produces real clinical data instead of hyped-up nonsense, I'll change my tune. Until that time, I consider the company a stock to avoid or short, depending on circumstances.