BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- On Tuesday afternoon, SummerStreet Research Partners, a healthcare research shop, sent emails informing its institutional investor clients about an important study and related editorial concerning Arena Pharmaceuticals ( ARNA) that were published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. Here, in full, is the text of the email sent Tuesday to investor clients about Arena and the NEJM by SummerStreet Research: "ARNA (BUY), The BLOOM trial is published today in the NEJM with an editorial. The editorial points out that lorcaserin has slightly less than or equal efficacy to Orlistat and slightly less efficacy than Meridia (sibutramine). However the justification of approval for lorcaserin is that its safety profile appears to be better than that of Xenical (orlistat) or sibutramine. In addition, lorcaserin appears to result in improvement of all surrogate measures of diabetes and cardiovascular risk: the effect is small however clinically relevant. This is important since sibutramine did not and subsequently went on to demonstrate negative cardiovascular outcome in the SCOUT trial. The SCOUT trial results will be presented tomorrow at the International Obestity conference in Stockholm. The author of the editorial suggests that lorcaserin will probably be used in combination, perhaps with GLP-1s (prior to phentermine). Overall we consider the publication a positive for the shares and it bodes well for the September 16th advisory panel meeting (bolsters the Eisai deal – safety first novel agent)." Later Tuesday night, J.P. Morgan biotech analyst Geoff Meacham also sent an email to his investor clients, telling them about an HIV study likewise published in this week's NEJM that has implications for Gilead Sciences ( GILD). Normally, these emails wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Research analysts are just doing their jobs when they make sure clients stay abreast of all the latest medical information that can affect stock prices. Yet, if I had published stories Tuesday similarly informing readers about studies related to Arena and Gilead published in this week's NEJM, the journal editors would have screamed foul.
And they may be doing exactly that as they read this column. The NEJM's media embargo policy forbids journalists from publishing stories about medical studies in the current issue of the NEJM until Wednesday nights, one day prior to the journal's official Thursday publication date. The NEJM, like many other medical and scientific journals, places embargoes on studies to give journalists time to interview experts and prepare stories.
Unfortunately, journal embargoes can also contribute to the unfair or selective dissemination of potentially market-moving information. The analysts at SummerStreet and J.P. Morgan are not covered under the media embargo. They received their weekly issues of the NEJM in the mail on Monday or Tuesday -- and because of that, they are free to pass on information to their Wall Street investor clients. Journalists like me knew about the Arena and HIV-Gilead studies last Friday. NEJM provides the media advance copies of its weekly issues, yet forbids publication of stories for six days. I'm sitting on the same information yet can't inform my readers -- including retail investors -- because of a media embargo. That's fundamentally unfair. One group of investors is getting a head start on potentially market-moving information that could be (should be) available to everyone at the same time. Jennifer Zeis, a spokesperson for the NEJM, acknowledged this situation is "not ideal," but she argued that embargoes have an important role and therefore need to be enforced, even in cases where some people gain access to NEJM information before others. I respectfully disagreed with her. (We actually had a good conversation about embargoes and I appreciate her listening to my point of view.) The point I made to Zeis is that the SummerStreet note on Arena and its weight-loss drug lorcaserin, in particular, was very timely and stock-price sensitive given all the investor attention this week on the obesity drug development race. Vivus ( VVUS) is bringing its weight-loss drug in front of an FDA advisory panel Thursday, the outcome of which will also have important implications for competitors Arena and Orexigen Therapeutics ( OREX). M primary responsibility is to bring this information to the attention of my readers -- largely retail investors -- as soon as possible. I respect embargoes and will therefore not quote directly from this week's NEJM until the embargo lifts tonight at 5 pm EDT. However, I should not be prevented from reporting on, or reprinting the work of, an analyst who is not constrained by any embargo. -- Reported by Adam Feuerstein in Boston. Follow Adam Feuerstein on Twitter.