Prana Biotechnology (PRAN) had one goal Tuesday: Mine deep into the phase II study of its Huntington's disease drug PBT2 to find anything positive to report. A single, positive data point -- even in a study overwhelmingly negative -- would be enough to claim victory and justify moving PBT2 into a phase III study.
Mission accomplished, as Prana heralded PBT2's benefit on a single measure of cognition in Huntington's disease. Never mind that Prana analyzed PBT2 using eight different cognitive tests and found only one that worked. [Well, sort of worked, if you count just one of two PBT2 doses barely achieving statistical significance.]
Prana simply took a page from the Elan-bapineuzumab playbook on how to develop placebo-like drugs in neuro-degenerative diseases. Tuesday's Hail Mary press release takes me back to 2009 when Elan tried to fool investors into believing that bapineuzumab was a real Alzheimer's drug.
The Elan story ended badly and Prana's will likely end no better, but not before the company raises more money and probably repeats the entire exercise in the coming months since PBT2 is also being studied in Alzheimer's. I can't want to see the spin from those study results.
Prana shares were up 42% to $10.33 Tuesday afternoon in a frenzy of biotech momentum trading.
The most amusing twist today in the Prana story, however, was the cheerleading coming from the Twitter account of Dr. Rudy Tanzi, the scientist who invented the "metals hypothesis" upon which PBT2 is based. Tanzi is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School but he's also Prana's chief scientific officer.
Dr. Rudy Tanzi (@RudyTanzi) February 18, 2014
"Our drug." Tanzi must be tweeting as a Prana employee with a financial stake in the outcome of PBT2. An employee of Harvard Medical School would have to disclose his financial conflict of interest, at a minimum. And I'm not sure many Harvard professors would find it appropriate to tweet about clinical trial data that's disclosed only in a corporate press release and had not been peer reviewed, published or presented at a medical meeting.
Does Tanzi operate under different rules?
The Tanzi tweets continued all day:
This is the second time PBT2 has improved the cognitive domain of executive function -first in 2008 in Alzheimer's and now in Huntington's.Dr. Rudy Tanzi (@RudyTanzi) February 18, 2014
Tanzi must have read my story explaining how the PBT2 study in Huntington's disease failed despite the rosy headline. In response, he tweeted:
At which point, Tanzi and I got into a fun Twitter spat:
Unlike Tanzi, I neither went to Harvard or co-wrote a book with Deepak Chopra but I do know when negative clinical study data is being spun:
I was curious about Tanzi's financial conflict relating to Prana, so I asked him to explain:
His reply didn't answer my question:
@adamfeuerstein I simply state publicly available scientific FACTS about the clinical trial of PBT2 in Huntington's disease. And you?Dr. Rudy Tanzi (@RudyTanzi) February 18, 2014
Facts? Prana issued a press release! So I tried again:
I'm still waiting for Tanzi's response.