BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Welcome to the post-Thanksgiving, intra-Black Friday Biotech Stock Mailbag 2011 review and report card. I totally called Pharmasset's ( VRUS) acquisition last January. Unfortunately, none of the other five bio-pharma takeout predictions I made at the same time -- Amarin ( AMRN), Seattle Genetics ( SGEN), Onyx Pharmaceuticals ( ONXX), Human Genome Sciences ( HGSI) and Biomarin Pharmaceuticals ( BMRN) -- came true. Maybe next year! All joking aside, the Mailbag focused a lot on hepatitis C this year -- the biotech investment story of 2011 by a wide margin. In April, I called Pharmasset's remarkable stock run -- up 50% at that time to $78 per share -- justified and sustainable given the excitement around its oral Hep C drug candidates, most notably PSI-7977. It's hard to believe now, but in April, Pharmasset's enterprise value was "only" $2.5 billion compared to Vertex Pharma's ( VRTX) $9 billion. Vertex's Hep C drug Incivek wasn't even approved until May but already there were concerns being raised that Vertex's reign as king of the Hep C mountain might be short lived. In this Mailbag, published right after an important European liver disease research meeting, I tried to help readers parse the rapidly changing Hep C treatment landscape: "It sounds incredibly weird to even conjure this thought, but from Wall Street's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately perspective, Vertex's telaprevir and Merck's boceprevir look a bit old in the tooth even before the two drugs are approved!" Regarding Vertex, I wrote: "Vertex's dilemma is that investors know this story well and have baked much of telaprevir's potential into the company's valuation already. What concerns investors today and perhaps even more post-EASL is that the slope of the expected telaprevir revenue tail may be steeper than previously appreciated. Investors are also raising questions about what Vertex is doing to sustain its Hep C franchise in 2015 and beyond when new drugs are expected to enter the market." The Mailbag's crystal ball wasn't always so prescient. I predicted Orexigen Therapeutics ( OREX) would receive a "good" complete response letter from FDA for its obesity drug Contrave last January. "Good" meant FDA would not require Orexigen to conduct any pre-approval Contrave clinical studies. Wrong. Not only did FDA reject Contrave, but the agency told Orexigen that the weight-loss drug wouldn't be approved until the company ran a 10,000 patient heart-safety study. Advising reader Vince M. last February to be skeptical of micro-cap Radient Pharmaceuticals ( RXPC) not only got the Hostile React-o-Meter spinning out of control, but was also the launching point for some of the most entertaining and hard-hitting reporting I published all year.
Who can forget Radient's business deals with a dead Indian prime minister or pseudo-partnership with the Mayo Clinic? Then there was Radient's massive loan default, the reluctant disclosure that its India joint venture was a bust and the delisting from Amex. I use the Mailbag to teach investors how best to vet biotech and drug stocks, and most importantly, how to avoid losing money in the scams, frauds or stories too good to be true. Penny stocks like Radient look cheap and therefore less risky to many investors, but as Radient proved all too well in 2011, these stocks are more often money-losing black holes. Your investing dollars go in, but they never come out. As for Chucky who wrote me back in April to crow, "Looks like you got Radient wrong you
Bleep. Bleep you Bleep. " Not so much, Chuck. It doesn't happen often enough but the Mailbag can sometimes discover promising, under-the-radar biotech and drug stocks. Case in point: Amarin, which was highlighted in May 2010 when the stock was trading for around $2.50 per share. My Amarin coverage continued into 2011, highlighting the company's takeout potential following the release of strong phase III data for the lipid-lowering drug AMR101. Unfortunately, even I, the biotech skeptic, can become blinded to the downside risks as I did in August when I too blithely dismissed the early warning signs of a big Amarin sell off fueled by concerns about AMR101's patent problems. If Hep C was the biggest biotech investment story of 2011, shorting new drug launches was the biotech-trading story of the year -- and a successful strategy, to boot. It seems so cruel and counter-intuitive, but in 2011, getting a new drug approved was often the worst thing that could happen to a biotech stock. The Mailbag in 2011 spent a lot of time discussing and warning investors about the perils of new drug launches, from Somaxon Pharma's ( SOMX) Silenor sleeping pill and Avanir Pharma's ( AVNR) Nuedexta to Cadence Pharma's ( CADX) injectable acetaminophen Ofirmev and Human Genome Sciences' ( HGSI) lupus drug Benlysta. This Mailbag from May was overstuffed with some of the craziest, mouth-breathing hate emails I received all year. Stuff like this almost always marks the top of a speculative biotech bubble market. The same Mailbag, by the way, demonstrated how wrong I was this year with Spectrum Pharmaceuticals ( SPPI) and its cancer drug Fusilev.
Other blasts from 2011 Mailbags: Rexahn Pharmaceuticals ( RNN), the big DOH! The first Mailbag to discuss "penile burning" -- Apricus Biosciences ( APRI). The flash in the pan that was Cleveland Biolabs ( CBLI). I'm not anti-stem cells, but I am anti-investing in stem cell stocks like Advanced Cell Technologies ( ACTC). Enjoy the rest of your extended Turkey Day festivities. I'll be back with a fresh Mailbag and new reader questions next week. --Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Adam Feuerstein. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/adamfeuerstein. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.