As Keryx, Aeterna Shares Surge, Investing Writer's Credibility Questioned

Updated with new information and a response from Jeremy Richards.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Shares of Keryx Biopharmaceuticals ( KERX) and Aeterna Zentaris ( AEZS) soared March 5 after an article touting the prospects of the drug companies was published on the investor Web site Seeking Alpha.

But the credibility of the author, Jeremy Richards, and the veracity of claims and statements made by him, couldn't be verified by anyone at his purported investment firm, the drug companies and Seeking Alpha.

Richards is the writer of 14 Seeking Alpha articles over two years promoting Keryx, Aeterna and the experimental cancer drug perifosine that both companies are jointly developing. Richards' latest article on the two stocks was published March 2. Richards called perifosine's Food and Drug Administration approval "practically a done deal" and predicts positive results from an ongoing colon cancer clinical trial.

Keryx, based in New York, is expected to announce top-line results next month from a phase III study of perifosine in advanced colon cancer. The trial is likely to fail based on poor phase II data as well as a proprietary analysis correlating the low market values of cancer drug developers with high failure rates for phase III cancer drug trials.

In response to Richards' article, Keryx shares jumped $1.24, or 33%, to $4.94 in Nasdaq trading March 5, adding $100 million to the micro-cap company's market value. Shares of Quebec-based Aeterna rose 40 cents, or 23%, to $2.15, adding $33 million in market value.

Neither company released news that would have propelled the shares. Keryx last released a media statement Feb. 29, when it said its 2011 loss widened while its cash holdings increased. Aeterna last published a release Feb. 3, an update on a phase I prostate cancer treatment.

Investors in little-known biotechnology stocks follow professionals for insights on what's often complex scientific information. Keryx and Aeterna aren't followed closely by Wall Street analysts, and most mutual fund managers don't hold stocks that cost less than $5, as the two drug companies do.

Richards describes himself as the manager and director of Private Wealth Fund with "twenty years investment experience," according to his Seeking Alpha profile. That helps explain why his Keryx and Aeterna analyses seem so well-received.

But Richards may not be the investment pro he claims to be. Reached March 2 by phone, Peggy Gan, CEO of Private Wealth Fund, a California-registered limited liability corporation, says she has never heard of Richards.

"I don't want to cast aspersions on the guy but no one named Jeremy Richards works for Private Wealth Fund," Gan said. She also said she had no knowledge of any articles published on Seeking Alpha.

After this story was published Tuesday, Richards altered his profile on Seeking Alpha, which now says he is manager and director of "A Private Wealth Fund." Richards added an "A" and kept the rest capitalized.

Richards didn't respond to a message sent through his Seeking Alpha account, but he did post a comment Tuesday under his most recent Seeking Alpha story:

"In response to Mr. Feuerstein's uninformed, inflammatory and accusatory comments which are completely without merit. It is rather sad that the street.com sic allows such publications by 'tabloid' journalists. Firstly, I run 'A' Private Fund, not the California LLC Mr.Feuerstein mentions. It is 'Private' and due to moral and professional considerations, I will not discuss the specific investors and/ or funds in the fund," Richards wrote.

Seeking Alpha has started a "dispute process" with Richards. He's being asked to provide documentation to confirm the veracity of his Keryx and Aeterna articles, according to George Moriarty, managing editor of Seeking Alpha.

"The process is ongoing," Moriarty said. "We will investigate any and all disputes registered against articles published on Seeking Alpha."

One of the disputes centers on claims made by Richards that he and his associates own large stock holdings in Keryx and Aeterna. Richards often cites those holdings in his Seeking Alpha articles as proof that perifosine is an effective cancer therapy.

Private Wealth Fund isn't a shareholder of Aeterna or Keryx, according to Bloomberg data that compiles such information on publicly traded companies. In fact, Private Wealth Fund doesn't show up at all as a stock fund, according to Bloomberg. It's not known if Richards owns stock in the companies through a personal account.

Aeterna has no information on Private Wealth Fund as an investor in the company and its executives don't know Richards, according to Aeterna spokesman Paul Burroughs.

Keryx didn't respond to questions about Richards or Private Wealth Fund.

In the March 2 article, Richards says his biotech consultant, "Dr. Williams" -- no first name or affiliation are disclosed -- owns 1.2 million shares of Aeterna.

"We value his opinion immensely and his track record is impeccable," Richards writes of Williams.

Williams doesn't show up as an Aeterna investor, according to Bloomberg. Any holder of 1.2 million shares of Aeterna today would be its second-largest shareholder, right behind RCM Capital Management's 1.4 million Aeterna shares, Bloomberg data show.

Richards, in his March 2 article, claims that another of his consultants, "well-respected" surgical oncologist Dr. Fred Wurlitzer, owns about 1 million shares of Aeterna because "he firmly believes in the success of perifosine."

Wurlitzer doesn't show up as an Aeterna shareholder, per Bloomberg.

"Whether Williams or Wurlitzer own Aeterna shares or not is not for us to comment on. We wouldn't know them unless they were 5% holders and they aren't," Aeterna's Burroughs says.

As further support for his articles touting the cancer drug perifosine, Richards claims that Williams owns 800,000 shares of Keryx. If true, the stake would make him the 13th-biggest investor in the company.

When asked for confirmation by Seeking Alpha, Richards said neither Williams nor Wurlitzer own more than 5% of Aeterna or Keryx, which explains why they're not listed as shareholders lists compiled by Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters, Moriarty said.

Richards hadn't yet provided Seeking Alpha with additional information confirming the stock ownership, Moriarty added.

In his response to this story mentioned above, Richards doesn't answer any of the stock ownership questions raised about his fund, Williams and Wurlitzer.

Efforts to reach Williams and Wurlitzer weren't successful. Wurlitzer has been published in two medical journals, according to a search of the PubMed database. The first, in 2003, was a comment on an article about physician-detectives in 20th century literature. The second Wurlitzer piece, from 2010, commented on an article describing burnout among U.S. surgeons.

Last fall, Richards wrote several Seeking Alpha articles claiming Roche ( RHHBY) was in talks to buy Aeterna for "over $4.70 per share." No such deal has been announced.

In Tuesday trading, Keryx shares were dwon 16% to $4.13 while Aeterna shares were down 15% to $1.83.

--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.

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