Pulling the Plug on Achillion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As much as I love this business of financial writing, there is nothing that I love more than being right.

And I love telling you about it. But if you stay in the business long enough, you'll realize that every once in a while, a writer has to take it on the chin and admit that he was just flat-out wrong about a call.

While I've never expected to nail every prediction with pinpoint accuracy, I can't say I've ever blown a call to the extent of Achillion Pharmaceuticals ( ACHN), a company that has now become a shell of itself, if not a complete disaster.

Now, if you know anything about the biotech industry, it's extremely volatile. But this is a sector that moves quickly in either direction on the prospects on new drug production and the approval of regulators like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So back in July, following the stock's 25% drop on news that Sovaprevir, the company's lead protease inhibitor for hepatitis C (HCV) had been put on hold by the FDA due to safety concerns, I called it a buying opportunity.

At the time, shares were trading around $6 after falling from well above $8.

Fast-forward three months later: shares have just made a new 52-week low of $2.87 as of Monday's trading. With a close of $3.02 Monday, essentially from the time that Achillion began its selloff in July, the stock has now lost 64%, including falling 53% since my buy recommendation. Before we go into why the company is getting hammered this time, let's revisit my buy thesis from July.

I'm not here to make any excuses because, clearly, I have no place to hide here. However, as I've noted, thick skin is required to be an investor in this sector. And to make any money at all (as the shorts are likely counting today), requires not only a significant amount of risk, but also an understanding of how these drugs come to market. It's not an easy process. In the July article, I said:

I don't disagree that Achillion brings considerably more risk than a much improved Abbott Labs (ABT) or a powerhouse like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). But after this recent 25% decline, Achillion's stock has become a bit more interesting, if not significantly undervalued.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the news reported in July was a prelude to more bad news regarding Sovaprevir. Last Friday, the company said it had been notified by the FDA that the clinical hold on Sovaprevir would not be removed. The FDA noted that although Achillion addressed the issues presented in the initial, concerns still remain, sending down 58% Monday.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 -- and at this point is easy to say that the signs "were all there," as I'm being reminded today in several emails. But let's not forget that, other than reports that there were "higher-than-expected blood levels of the therapies," the cause for the FDA's hold on the drug (at the time) was not immediately known.

Plus, it was Achillion that decided to suspend further testing of Sovaprevir and immediately notified FDA of the test results. So contrary to some of the claims in the emails I've received so far, it was not a situation where I completely ignored the so-called signs. After all, this is the process by which all biotech companies operate. Nor did I believe at the time that Achillion's fate was somehow "sealed" solely on the basis of one decision. Things have now changed, however.

While it is premature to say that it's completely "lights out" for the company, the fact is, Sovaprevir and all of its promise just isn't going to work. Without a key drug to fuel growth, I no longer see a compelling reason to stay interested in this stock.

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a co-founder of StockSaints.com where he serves as CEO and editor-in-chief. After 20 years in the IT industry, including 5 years as a high school computer teacher, Saintvilus decided his second act would be as a stock analyst - bringing logic from an investor's point of view. His goal is to remove the complicated aspect of investing and present it to readers in a way that makes sense.

His background in engineering has provided him with strong analytical skills. That, along with 15 years of trading and investing, has given him the tools needed to assess equities and appraise value. Richard is a Warren Buffett disciple who bases investment decisions on the quality of a company's management, growth aspects, return on equity, and price-to-earnings ratio.

His work has been featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Forbes, Motley Fool and numerous other outlets.

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