More Biotech Lessons Learned From JPM 2012

SAN FRANCISCO ( TheStreet) --The 2012 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is in the books. Here's more of what I learned:

The M&A mania pushing hepatitis C drug stocks higher paid off nicely for executives at Achillion Pharmaceuticals ( ACHN) who took the opportunity to cash in stock options. Among the notable sales: Chief Financial Officer Mary Kay Fenton banked $110,000 while CEO Mike Kishbauch made $856,000.

I single out these two because Fenton told Bloomberg this week that Achillion is "not eager to go out and plant a 'for sale sign on our front lawn." Yet, selling Achillion is precisely what Kishbauch has promised investors for a long time.

Oncothyreon ( ONTY) chief Bob Kirkman, speaking to Reuters, says of the ongoing Stimuvax phase III study in non-small cell lung cancer: "In some sense, the longer it takes the better it is." Or not. Just ask Cell Therapeutics ( CTIC) and Novelos Therapeutics.

AMAG Pharmaceuticals ( AMAG): The current Feraheme business is flattish although the company guides to low double-digit, year-over-year sales growth and the goal of staying at cash flow breakeven. The only story that really matters with AMAG, really, is the ongoing strategic review and the possible sale of the company. Amag is getting interest on that front, according to a source familiar with the review.

Two small drug companies -- one forgotten, the other somewhat disgraced -- seek redemption in results from phase II breast cancer studies with results expected later this year. Best yet, both studies are randomized and controlled, so we'll get real data!

Celldex Therapeutics ( CLDX) fell off the investor radar map in 2011 but is hoping to re-emerge this year with a phase II study of CDX-011, a monoclonal antibody drug conjugate. Results are expected at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in June, says Celldex chief Tony Marucci. Interestingly, the linker-chemotherapy toxin component of CDX-011 was licensed from Seattle Genetics and is the same one used in its newly approved lymphoma drug Adcetris.

Geron ( GERN) took a beating late last year when it gave up on its embryonic stem cell therapy. Now, the company is focusing its drug development activities on its cancer therapeutics, many of which pre-date its stem-cell research. Geron will help its turnaround efforts a great deal if it can manage to produce a win from a phase II lung cancer study of imetelstat. Results expected in the fourth quarter.

Most provocative quote from the conference: Merck's ( MRK) worldwide head of licensing and acquisitions Roger Pomerantz telling Bloomberg, "Our goal is to be a leader in hepatitis C, and we will do what it takes to get there."

Does that include making a hostile bid for Inhibitex ( INHX)? Hmmm….

On a related note, Merck's research chief doesn't believe the race to develop an all-oral Hep C regimen is winner-take-all. Speaking during Merck's breakout session, Kim said, "It's not clear how many patients the healthcare system can take at one time. It's also not clear how much the payors are going to open up the doors at one time. So the notion that you have a whole bunch of patients just rushing in to get treated and then everything's done, we think, is not the right way to think about this. There is going to be time to sort of what is the optimal combination therapy."

Two drugs I heard about for the first time this week that I want to dig into further: Clovis Oncology's ( CLVS) CO-101 (with its companion diagnostic) for pancreatic cancer and Nektar Therapeutics' ( NKTR) NKTR181, a novel painkiller designed to cross the blood-brain barrier more slowly and therefore reduce euphoria that can lead to abuse.

Question: Do investors trust Ariad Pharmaceuticals' ( ARIA) CEO Harvey Berger to commercialize the leukemia drug ponatinib on his own?

Celgene ( CELG): Rocking. Strong 2012 guidance, a management team exuded confidence and a calendar filled with big-time regulatory and clinical catalysts.

Déjà vu: Sam Waksal back in front of a podium at the J.P. Morgan conference, this time pitching his new private company Kadmon Pharmaceuticals (which, by the way, is also involved in the hepatitis C drug game.) The last time Waksal spoke publicly at this conference wasn't fun -- for him.

Burrito porn. If you must know, Taqueria Cancun at Mission and 19th St.

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

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