For Biotechnology in 2010, it’s Déjà vu All over Again

It’s déjà vu all over again” – Yogi Berra

With Opening Day less than a month away, it seems only fitting to reference one of the most quoted personalities of our time to describe our analysis of the biotechnology sector in 2010.  In this article, we review our favorable outlook for the industry, draw comparisons with the prior year, and introduce the results of our recent “Life Sciences Industry Outlook” survey that targeted industry executives, investors, analysts, and members of the media.

Bullish Outlook

Our favorable outlook for the biotechnology industry in 2010, which builds upon many of the same catalysts we proposed for 2009, is based on the following key drivers:

  • Sector’s defensive characteristics and impact on future economic growth
  • Highest number of annual new product approvals since 2004
  • Record number of products in clinical trials and annual industry R&D investment
  • Improving access to capital
  • Brisk pace of industry consolidation and licensing transactions
  • Many small and mid-capitalization companies remain undervalued

In fact, several of these themes were reinforced by the results of our industry survey.

Defensive Sector and Economic Driver

During periods of economic uncertainty, the biotechnology sector is often portrayed as defensive given that disease is relentless in both good economic times and bad.  Despite recent medical advances, there remains a need for quality, innovative products to diagnose and treat a broad variety of diseases such as cancer, central nervous system disorders, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and infectious diseases.

Beyond its defensive characteristics, the sector plays a critical role in the United States [US] economy.  Innovative new medicines developed by life science companies provide better patient outcomes, improved quality of care, increased life expectancy, and lead to economic gains.

While the strengths and weaknesses of the US healthcare system remain the subject of great debate, we believe new medicines should be viewed as investments in the future, not only in patient health – but also in economic recovery and growth.  For example, as indicated in our October 2009 article “Innovative New Medicines are Key to Economic Growth,” a permanent one percent reduction in mortality from cancer alone has a present value to current and future generations of Americans of nearly $500 billion and a cure would be worth about $50 trillion.

New Drug Approvals

In a repeat of last year, the total number of approvals for new molecular entities and biologic license applications by the US Food and Drug Administration’s [FDA] Center for Drug Evaluation and Research [CDER] in 2009 was the highest since 2004.  Of course, cynics will rightfully call attention to the modest year-over-year increase [25 in 2009 versus 24 in 2008] and that recent performance is still more than 50% below the high of 56 new approvals in 1996.

However, we believe that viewing the number of FDA approvals in the context of new risk evaluation and mitigation strategies [REMS] that were introduced in 2008 and internal resource constraints that have plagued the agency provides optimism going forward.  While legislation passed in 2008 gave the FDA more money and resources, hiring and training hundreds of new employees takes time.  With that process well underway, combined with increased familiarity of the REMS program, we believe the drug approval process should improve going forward.

In terms of therapeutic areas, oncology represented one out of five [20%] approvals by CDER in 2009 according to a recent publication [Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 9, 89-92, February 2010].  Not surprisingly, oncology was our highest ranked survey response with regard to attracting investment and/or business development activity in 2010.  See Table 1 below.

Table 1. In terms of raising capital and/or business development activity, which key therapeutic area do you expect to attract the most interest/visibility during 2010?

Answer Response Ratio*
Oncology (solid tumors) 37.7%
Metabolic disorders (eg, diabetes, obesity) 17.7%
Central nervous system disorders (eg, Parkinson’s disease) 17.7%
Oncology (hematological malignancies) 11.1%
Infectious disease 8.8%
Other 6.6%

* Numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding

Record Pipeline and Investment

According to the latest report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America [PhRMA], there are a record number of biotechnology drugs currently in development.  In the US alone, there are 633 biotechnology medicines being developed, including 254 medicines for cancer, 162 for infectious diseases, 59 for autoimmune diseases, 34 for HIV/AIDS and related conditions, 25 for cardiovascular disease, and 19 for diabetes and related conditions.

Annual research and development expenditures by PhRMA member companies also reached a record $50.3 billion in 2008, more than tripling the $15.2 billion level of investment in 1995.

Access to Capital

In 2010, companies at all stages of development will try to attract investors and the competition will be fierce.  However, in terms of access to capital for life sciences companies, our survey indicated that more than 46% of respondents expect favorable conditions in 2010, with modest improvement over 2009.  Another 46% of respondents indicated that they expect access to capital to be about the same as 2009.  Only 4% of respondents expected access to capital to improve markedly with initial public offerings [IPO] possible.

In 2009, venture capital investment in biotechnology declined by 19%, both in dollars and deals, from the prior year according to the MoneyTree™ Report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.  However, biotechnology was the single largest investment sector for 2009 with $3.5 billion going into 406 deals.

In terms of initial public offerings [IPOs], only three biotechnology companies successfully tested the public markets in 2009.  In 2010, two IPO’s have already been completed, albeit both below the expected offering price, and several others are in queue, including Prometheus Laboratories, Aveo Pharmaceuticals, Trius Therapeutics, Aldagen, Alimera Science, and Tengion.  See Table 2 for recent biotechnology IPO performance.

Table 2. Recent Biotechnology IPO Performance

Company IPO Date IPO Price Raised ($m) Latest Price % Change
Cumberland Pharmaceuticals (CPIX) 8/10/09 $17 $85 $11.60 -31.76%
Talecris Biotherapeutics (TLCR) 10/1/09 $19 $950 $21.94 +15.47%
Omeros Corporation (OMER) 10/8/09 $10 $70 $6.36 -36.40%
Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (IRWD) 2/3/10 $11.25 $203 $13.14 +16.80%
Anthera Pharmaceuticals (ANTH) 3/1/10 $7 $54 $7.00 unchanged

 

In terms of public financings, several companies have already completed offerings in 2010, including Amicus Therapeutics, Inc. (FOLD), BioSante Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BPAX), Cell Therapeutics, Inc. (CTIC), Chelsea Therapeutics International, Inc. (CHTP), Cleveland Biolabs, Inc. (CBLI), Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (CYCC), Derma Sciences, Inc. (DSCI), EntreMed, Inc. (ENMD), InterMune, Inc. (ITMN), Palatin Technologies, Inc. (PTN),and XOMA Ltd. (XOMA).

Improving access to capital could lead to an acceleration of merger and acquisition activity and licensing deals, as large pharmaceutical companies begin to lose their leverage and company valuations start increasing.

Consolidation

More than 82% of survey responders expected merger and acquisition activity to accelerate in 2010 compared with 2009.  In view of two recent deals, the paucity of merger and acquisition activity and decline in both the quantity and value of licensing & partnering transactions announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010 appears to have been the pause that refreshes [see “Biotech Deal Activity Declines…The Pause that Refreshes?”].

For example, on February 23, 2010, Cephalon, Inc. (CEPH) exercised its option to acquire Ception Therapeutics, Inc. for $250 million in view of positive Phase 2 data from a clinical study in adults with eosinophilic asthma.  In January 2009, Cephalon paid Ception $100 million upfront for the option.

On March 1, 2010, Astellas Pharma, Inc. offered to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock of OSI Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (OSIP) for $52.00 per share in cash, or an aggregate of approximately $3.5 billion on a fully diluted basis.  The offer represented more than a 40% premium on the closing price of OSI Pharmaceuticals’ common stock of $37.02 per share on February 26, 2010, and shares have subsequently traded above $57 on expectations for a higher bid.

In view of the fact that US pharmaceutical companies stand to lose billions of revenue due to patent expirations from 2010 to 2012, we expect merger and acquisition activity to remain brisk.

Small Versus Large

As highlighted in our “Biotech’s 2009 Stealth Small Cap Rally” article, small capitalization biotechnology companies were among the best performers of 2009.  The relative underperformance of many large capitalization biotechnology companies in 2009 masked the fact that many smaller, innovative companies performed well, with 20 of the 125 companies comprising the NASDAQ Biotech Index producing triple-digit returns during the period.  Vanda Pharmaceuticals (VNDA), Human Genome Sciences (HGIS), and Targacept, Inc. (TRGT) led the way, with stock prices up 2,150%, 1,342%, and 487%, respectively.

Similar to 2009, we expect that small and mid-capitalization companies with positive clinical or regulatory catalysts will continue to outperform their larger industry peers in 2010.

Beware the Ides of March

In our February 2009 article “Chink in the Biotechnology Armor,” we cited the spate of high profile clinical setbacks and regulatory delays during the month as the reason for the sector’s precipitous decline.  The NASDAQ Biotech Index, which traded as high as 772 during the first week of February, traded as low as 605 by the first week of March – losing more than 21% of its value during the 30-day period.

In February and March 2010, there have also been a significant number of clinical and regulatory setbacks.  Consider the following:

  • AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (AMAG) – Purported safety concerns regarding Feraheme® [ferumoxytol], the company’s marketed product for the treatment of iron deficiency anemia in adult patients with chronic kidney disease, kicked off a 27% decline in shares of AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  The stock, which traded as high as $45.61 on February 3, 2010, subsequently traded as low as $33.29 despite assurances from the company that the rate of serious hypersensitivity reactions related to Feraheme are consistent with the product’s label.
  • Cell Therapeutics, Inc. (CTIC) – On February 8, 2010, the FDA released its briefing documents for the company’s lymphoma drug, pixantrone, in advance of an Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee [ODAC] meeting originally scheduled for February 10, 2010.  Shares of Cell Therapeutics, Inc., which closed at $1.06 the prior week, traded as low as $0.53 that day.  Among other issues, the FDA raised concerns about pixantrone’s efficacy in view of the fact that the randomized study was stopped at less than 50% of its planned patient target because of poor accrual.  The ODAC meeting was subsequently rescheduled for March 22, 2010.
  • Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ISIS) – On February 10, 2010, the company and its partner, Genzyme Corporation (GENZ), announced results from a Phase 3 study of mipomersen in patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia [heFH].  While the trial met its primary endpoint with a highly statistically significant 28 percent reduction in LDL-cholesterol after 26 weeks of treatment, the results raised safety concerns and apparently fell short of Wall Street’s expectations.  Shares of Isis Pharmaceuticals, which closed above $11 the day before the results were released, traded as low as $8.85 the next day.
  • XenoPort, Inc. (XNPT) – On February 17, 2010, XenoPort, Inc. and its partner GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) received a Complete Response letter from the FDA, delaying approval for Horizant™ [gabapentin enacarbil] Extended-Release Tablets, an investigational non-dopaminergic treatment for moderate-to-severe primary Restless Legs Syndrome.   Shares of XenoPort, Inc., which closed at $19.60 the day before the news, hit an all-time low of $6.39 the next day.
  • Novelos Therapeutics, Inc. (NVLT.OB) – On February 24, 2010, the company announced that the primary endpoint of improvement in overall survival was not met in a pivotal Phase 3 trial for advanced non-small cell lung cancer [NSCLC] with its lead product, NOV-002, in combination with first-line chemotherapy.  Shares of Novelos Therapeutics, Inc., which closed at $1.65 the day before the results were released, traded as low as $0.28 the next day.
  • Adventrix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ANX) – On March 1, 2010, the company announced that it received a refuse to file letter from the FDA regarding its New Drug Application for ANX-530 [vinorelbine injectable emulsion].  In the letter, the FDA indicated that the data included in the initial submission from the intended commercial manufacturing site was insufficient to support a commercially-viable expiration dating period.  Shares of Adventrix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. which closed at $0.29 the prior week, traded as low as $0.16 that day.
  • Medivation, Inc. (MDVN) – On March 3, 2010, the company and its partner, Pfizer, Inc. (PFE), announced that the investigational drug dimebon [latrepirdine] unexpectedly failed in a Phase 3 trial in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.  Shares of Medivation, Inc., which closed above $40 the day before the results were released, traded as low as $12.55 the next day.

Helping to offset the negative impact of these setbacks, the NASDAQ Biotech Index is market value-weighted, taking into account the total market capitalization of the companies it tracks and not just their share prices.  Accordingly, companies with the largest market capitalizations, or the greatest values, will have the highest impact on the index.  Further, several companies experiencing clinical or regulatory setbacks were not included in the NASDAQ Biotech Index.

In addition, recent merger and acquisition activity may also help mask the effects of the aforementioned clinical and regulatory setbacks.  For example, the NASDAQ Biotech Index closed up 2.7% the day that Astellas Pharma, Inc. offered to acquire OSI Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Upcoming Catalysts

When it comes to raising visibility and capital, 40% of survey respondents cited general risk aversion in the financial markets as the single greatest challenge facing most life sciences companies in 2010.   Another 28.8% of respondents cited the average market capitalization of life sciences companies being too small and/or lack of liquidity as the single greatest challenge.

In view of the aforementioned clinical and regulatory setbacks, investors will be closely monitoring the following events, as there is no discounting the negative impact of continued clinical and regulatory setbacks on biotechnology investor’s appetite for risk:

  • MannKind Corporation (MKND) – In January 2010, the company announced that the FDA would be unable to complete its review of Afrezza™ before the mid-January Prescription Drug User Fee Act [PDUFA] date in order to complete an inspection of a manufacturing-related facility belonging to one of the company’s suppliers.  Alfrezza is a novel, ultra rapid acting mealtime insulin therapy under review for use in adult patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus for the treatment of hyperglycemia.  The company has not been given a new PDUFA date by the FDA.
  • InterMune, Inc. (ITMN) – A Pulmonary-Allergy Drugs Advisory Committee [PADAC] meeting is scheduled for March 9, 2010, to review the NDA for pirfenidone, the company’s investigational drug candidate for the treatment of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis [IPF] to reduce decline in lung function.
  • Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (AMLN), Eli Lilly and Company (LLY), and Alkermes, Inc. (ALKS) – Following a weather delay, the FDA has set a new PDUFA action date of March 12, 2010, for its review of the NDA for exenatide once weekly.  Exenatide is being developed in collaboration with Eli Lilly and based on technology from Alkermes, Inc.
  •  Cell Therapeutics, Inc. – The rescheduled ODAC meeting for pixantrone takes place on March 22, 2010.
  • Delcath Systems, Inc. (DCTH) – On February 4, 2010, the company announced that sufficient events have been reached to allow data analysis to begin on its Phase 3 trial for a novel drug delivery platform to deliver ultra-high doses of anti-cancer drugs to the liver while preventing these high doses of drug from entering the patient’s bloodstream.  The 92 patient, randomized, multi-center, Phase 3 trial used the drug melphalan to treat patients with metastatic melanoma in the liver.  Assuming a successful trial endpoint, the company expects to file a new drug application [NDA] with the FDA in April 2010.
  • Dendreon Corporation (DNDN) – A Biologics License Application for Provenge® [sipuleucel-T] for the treatment of men with metastatic, androgen-independent prostate cancer, has been assigned a PDUFA date of May 1, 2010.

Conclusion

While the capital markets remain turbulent, many of the biotechnology industry’s fundamentals, such as the number of products in clinical trials, new product approvals, profitable biotech companies and industry mergers & acquisitions remain favorable.   Combine these positive attributes with yet to be seen benefits from decoding the human genome, an improvement or stabilization in the capital markets, greater resources for the FDA and a novel blending of technology, chemistry and biology and many of the necessary ingredients for The Biotechnology Revolution remain intact.  Or, as Yogi Berra simply said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Biotech Deal Activity Declines…The Pause that Refreshes?

* MD Becker Partners reporting live from the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference

This week, nearly 6,500 registrants gathered in San Francisco, California for the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference to hear 25-minute presentations from 338 life science companies.  For industry executives and investors, the annual event serves as a good barometer for the rest of the year.

We roamed the familiar halls of the Westin St. Francis Hotel to assess the mood among participants and also monitored online media commentaries throughout the event.  In general, there was a flurry of activity, the plane flights and networking receptions were crowded as usual, and several industry observers “Tweeted” a sense of optimism for 2010.  However, we sought to construct a less subjective assessment by analyzing year-over-year statistics from the conference.

Accordingly, we extensively reviewed company press releases issued during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in both 2009 and 2010, with a particular focus on identifying the number of merger & acquisitions, licensing & partnering transactions, and financing deals announced each year during the four day event.

Merger and Acquisitions

In contrast to the absence of any significant M&A deals announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010, several large M&A transactions with an aggregate value of $702 million were disclosed during the first two days of the event in 2009 [January 12-15, 2009].  The largest deal went to Cephalon, Inc. (CEPH), which announced an agreement providing the company with an option to purchase all outstanding capital stock of Ception Therapeutics, Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical company.  Under the terms of the option agreement, Cephalon paid Ception $100 million upfront for the option.  If Cephalon exercises its option, the company will purchase all of the outstanding capital stock of Ception for $250 million along with additional payments related to clinical and regulatory milestones.  Other transactions announced that year included:

  • Medtronic, Inc.’s (MDT) acquisition of privately held Ablation Frontiers, Inc. for an initial payment of $225 million plus potential additional payments contingent upon achievement of certain clinical milestones
  • The Medicines Company’s (MDCO) merger agreement with Targanta Therapeutics Corporation for $42 million in cash and additional regulatory and commercial milestone payments
  • NuVasive, Inc.’s (NUVA) option to acquire Progentix Orthobiology BV, a Netherlands based company focused on developing novel orthobiologics, consisting of an upfront investment of $15 million along with the obligation to purchase the remaining equity of Progentix for $45 million upon accomplishment of certain development milestones [with additional potential payments of up to $25 million upon the achievement of additional milestones and based upon NuVasive’s sales success]

Licensing and Partnering

Kicking off the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010, privately held KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced a $290 million agreement with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the sanofi-aventis Group (SNY), for the development and commercialization of KB001, an investigational new biologic for the treatment or prevention of Pseudomonas aeruginosa [Pa] infections.  KaloBios, which is developing first-in-class human antibody therapeutics that offer advantages over other methods of human antibody creation in terms of immunogenicity, potency, and manufacturing yields, will receive an upfront payment of $35 million, plus development, regulatory and commercial milestones for a potential further $255 million, as well as royalties on eventual product sales.

While other licensing and partnering transactions were announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010, they were substantially smaller or specific financial terms were not disclosed.  These include:

  • Proteus Biomedical Inc. announced an exclusive worldwide license and collaboration agreement with Novartis AG (NVS) to develop and commercialize pharmaceutical products that incorporate Proteus’ novel sensor-based technologies in the field of organ transplantation along with certain option rights in cardiovascular and oncology product applications.  Under the terms of the agreement, Novartis will make upfront cash and equity investments in Proteus totaling $24 million and Proteus will also receive royalties on worldwide net sales of any Novartis products incorporating its sensor-based technology.
  • Trillium Therapeutics, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing innovative immune-based biologics, announced that it has entered into a definitive license agreement with Biogen Idec, Inc. (BIIB), granting the latter exclusive worldwide rights to one of Trillium’s development programs.  Under the terms of the agreement, Trillium will receive an upfront payment and is eligible to receive milestone payments based on achievements of specified clinical, regulatory and commercial accomplishments.  Trillium will also receive royalties on global product sales.  Biogen Idec will be solely responsible for clinical development, regulatory approvals, manufacturing and commercialization.
  • MedGenesis Therapeutix Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing and commercializing innovative treatments for patients with serious central nervous system [CNS] diseases, announced an agreement with Amgen, Inc. (AMGN) that provides MedGenesis with an exclusive, worldwide license for glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor [GDNF] protein in CNS and non-CNS indications.  As part of the license agreement, Amgen now holds a small equity stake in MedGenesis.  In parallel, Biovail Corporation (BVF) and MedGenesis concluded an agreement to collaborate on the development of GDNF in Parkinson’s disease and potentially other CNS indications.  GDNF is a naturally-occurring growth factor capable of protecting and promoting the survival of dopamine producing nerve cells.
  • AstraZeneca Plc (AZN) and CrystalGenomics announced a research collaboration to discover and develop a novel anti-infective for use as a potential antibacterial agent.  Under the terms of this agreement, Korea-based CrystalGenomics will receive research funding from AstraZeneca for two years.  CrystalGenomics will also be eligible to receive future milestones and royalty payments associated with development and commercialisation of a drug candidate.
  • AnaptysBio, Inc., a privately-held therapeutic antibody platform and product company, announced it has signed an agreement with Roche (RHHBY) for the development of novel antibody therapeutics.  Under the terms of the agreement, AnaptysBio will be responsible for generating novel antibodies using its proprietary somatic hypermutation platform and Roche will receive a worldwide license to develop and commercialize antibodies optimized by AnaptysBio.  In addition to a signing fee paid by Roche, AnaptysBio will be eligible to receive milestone payments and royalties upon product sales.

The six transactions announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010 with reported financial terms totaling $314 million pale in comparison to the ten deals reported at the meeting during 2009 worth more than $2.4 billion in aggregate value.  These included a $1.1 billion deal between ZymoGenetics, Inc. (ZGEN) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY), a $500 million deal between Peptimmune, Inc. and Novartis AG, a $396 million deal between Micromet, Inc. (MITI) and Bayer AG (BAYZF.PK), and a $200 million deal between FORMA Therapeutics the Novartis Option Fund to develop inhibitors for an undisclosed protein-protein interaction target in the field of oncology, among others.

Financing

The quantity and aggregate dollar value of public and private financing transactions announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference were essentially flat in 2010 compared with the prior year as reflected in the table below.

2009 2010
Company Name Ticker $ Million Raised Company Name Ticker $ Million Raised
Acclarent, Inc Private 26.00 Cyclacel Pharma CYCC 7.20
Mithridion, Inc Private 2.90 Advanced Cardiac Therap Private 5.00
Singulex, Inc. Private 19.00 VentiRx Pharma Private 25.00
Soligenix, Inc SNGX.OB 2.28 EntreMed, Inc ENMD 2.50
Akorn, Inc AKRX 25.00 BioLeap, Inc Private 5.00
Alseres Pharmaceuticals ALSE.PK 1.00 Cell Therapeutics, Inc CTIC 30.00
Chiral Quest Private 13.00 BIND Biosciences, Inc Private 11.00
Rosetta Genomics Ltd ROSG 5.10
TOTAL $89.18 TOTAL $90.80

 

Outlook

At the start of 2009, we provided a positive outlook for biotechnology, citing the sector’s defensive characteristics, favorable technical aspects, and improving fundamentals, such as the number of new product approvals, products in clinical trials and the brisk pace of industry consolidation and licensing transactions.  The latter was quickly reinforced by M&A transactions with an aggregate value of $702 million and licensing & partnering deals worth more than $2.4 billion in aggregate value announced January 12-15, 2009, during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.

While we believe that a positive outlook for 2010 is once again warranted, and the first two weeks of the year don’t necessary indicate a trend, hopefully the paucity of M&A activity coupled with the decline in both the quantity and value of licensing & partnering transactions announced during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2010 is simply the pause that refreshes and the action improves throughout the year.

2009: Biotech’s Stealth Small Cap Rally

On the heels of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) logging its worst annual performance since 1931 and the NASDAQ Composite (COMP) having its worst year since inception in 1971, it may have seemed counter intuitive to provide a bullish outlook for the biotechnology industry in 2009.  Nonetheless, at the start of the year we provided a positive outlook for biotechnology, citing the sector’s defensive characteristics, favorable technical aspects, and improving fundamentals, such as the number of new product approvals, products in clinical trials and the brisk pace of industry consolidation and licensing transactions.

With 2009 officially on the books, it appears an appropriate time to review the sector’s performance along with some of the themes highlighted in our previous articles.

Big Versus Small

The twenty-member NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index (BTK) was up 46% in 2009, while the broader NASDAQ Biotech Index (NBI) was only up 16%, underperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX), and NASDAQ Composite (COMP), which were up 19%, 24%, and 44%, respectively.  Why the huge discrepancy in returns between these two major biotechnology indices?  Unlike the equal-weighted NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index, the NASDAQ Biotech Index is market value-weighted, taking into account the total market capitalization of the companies it tracks and not just their share prices.  Accordingly, companies with the largest market capitalizations, or the greatest values, will have the highest weighting in the index.

During 2009, large capitalization biotechnology companies [greater than $10 billion] dramatically underperformed their smaller peers.  For example, Celgene Corporation (CELG) was essentially flat, Amgen, Inc. (AMGN) was down 2%, Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD) declined by 15%, and Genzyme Corporation (GENZ) dropped 26% [earning Henri Termeer the coveted Nance Trophy for worst biotech CEO of 2009 by TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein].  Some of the reasons for this poor performance include concerns over generic competition and pipeline progress – ironically some of the same issues that have plagued big pharma.

Accordingly, the relative underperformance of large capitalization biotechnology companies in 2009 masked the fact that many smaller, innovative companies performed well, with 20 of the 125 companies comprising the NASDAQ Biotech Index producing triple-digit returns during the period.  In fact, two biotechnology companies were among the largest percentage gainers in the NASDAQ Composite with their staggering quadruple-digit returns: Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (VNDA) +2,150% and Human Genome Sciences, Inc. (HGSI) +1,342%.  See Table 1 for a list of the top ten gainers from the NASDAQ Biotech Index in 2009.

Table 1. Top ten gainers from NASDAQ Biotech Index (NBI) in 2009

Company Name Symbol 12/31/08 Close 12/31/09 Close % Change
Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. VNDA $0.500 $11.250 2,150%
Human Genome Sciences, Inc. HGSI $2.120 $30.580 1,342%
Targacept, Inc. TRGT $3.560 $20.900 487%
Dendreon Corporation DNDN $4.580 $26.280 474%
Hi-Tech Pharmacal Co., Inc. HITK $5.540 $28.050 406%
BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. BCRX $1.370 $6.460 372%
Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. SPPI $1.490 $4.440 198%
Santarus, Inc. SNTS $1.570 $4.620 194%
Salix Pharmaceuticals, Ltd. SLXP $8.830 $25.390 188%
Impax Laboratories, Inc. IPXL $5.000 $13.610 172%

 

Oncology: Prostate Cancer Spotlight

Driven by positive Phase 3 results from Dendreon Corporation (DNDN) regarding its prostate cancer vaccine study, investors gravitated towards biotechnology companies working in the field of prostate cancer treatment as noted in our May 2009 article.  This enthusiasm only increased when Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) announced in May 2009 that it would acquire Cougar Biotechnology, Inc., a development stage company with an oral prostate cancer treatment being studied in two Phase 3 clinical trials, for approximately $1 billion.

While not a member of either major biotechnology index, shares of Oncogenex Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (OGXI) started the year around $3.00 and ended above $22 for a 643% return.  Oncogenex is developing OGX-011, which is designed to inhibit the production of clusterin, a protein that is associated with cancer treatment resistance, and has completed Phase 2 clinical trials in prostate, lung and breast cancer.  OGX-011 received Fast Track designation from the FDA for the treatment of progressive metastatic prostate cancer in combination with docetaxel.  Shares of Oncogenex had traded higher than $42 in August 2009, but the stock price declined following a license agreement with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA) for OGX-011 that apparently did not meet investor’s expectations.

Not all biotechnology companies working in the area of prostate cancer were as fortunate as Dendreon, Cougar, and Oncogenex.  Shares of GTx, Inc. (GTXI) were the second largest industry decliner for 2009 due to a complete response letter from the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] that cited clinical deficiencies regarding the company’s New Drug Application [NDA] for toremifene 80 mg to reduce fractures in men with prostate cancer receiving androgen deprivation therapy.  See Table 2 for a list of the top ten decliners from the NASDAQ Biotech Index in 2009.

Shareholder Activist Wins

In view of past major coups with MedImmune and ImClone, in August 2009 we reviewed Carl Icahn’s biotechnology holdings as reported in SEC filings and identified three companies that significantly underperformed the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index over the past five years, but with recent successful shareholder activist outcomes that could positively impact future performance.  In particular, we noted that Alexander Denner, who has served as Managing Director of entities affiliated with Carl Icahn and as a director of ImClone, had recently been elected as a director at each company.

During 2009, those three companies, Biogen Idec, Inc. (BIIB), Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (AMLN), and Enzon Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ENZN) produced positive returns of 12%, 31% and 81%, respectively.  While Biogen Idec underperformed the sector, it notched the highest return among large capitalization biotechnology companies.

In other shareholder activist news, holders of Vanda Pharmaceuticals (VNDA) are likely pleased that the company’s Board of Directors spurned a request by Tang Capital Partners, LP to liquidate the company in February 2009.  Shares of Vanda were up 2,150% for the year [see Table 1] following FDA approval in May 2009 to market the company’s Fanapt™ [iloperidone], a novel antipsychotic for the acute treatment of adult patients with schizophrenia, and a subsequent marketing agreement for the product with Novartis AG (NVS).

CNS: Developments for Parkinson’s Disease

Vanda Pharmaceuticals wasn’t the only company working in the area of central nervous system [CNS] disorders to make news.  Shares of Impax Laboratories, Inc. (IPXL), which were trading around $7.50 at the time we published our August 2009 article titled “Treating Parkinson’s Disease: Investment Opportunities and Challenges,” continued to reach new 52-week highs and ended up 172% for the year [see Table 1].  Impax recently initiated the second of two Phase 3 studies designed to support marketing approval of its IPX066 product candidate for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.  IPX066 is an investigational extended release carbidopa-levodopa product intended to rapidly achieve and then sustain effective blood concentrations of levodopa, potentially improving clinical symptom management.

Gastrointestinal Disease: 3 Hits, 3 Misses

First, the good:

Both Salix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (SLXP) and Santarus, Inc. (SNTS) appear in the list of top ten biotechnology gainers for 2009 with triple-digit returns due to favorable regulatory progress reported during the year [see Table 1].  In September, Salix announced the successful outcome of two Phase 3 trials to evaluate the efficacy and safety of Xifaxan® [rifaximin] for the treatment of non-constipation irritable bowel syndrome.  Salix is planning an NDA submission for the first half of 2010.  In December, Santarus announced that the FDA approved the company’s New Drug Application [NDA] for its prescription tablet product for all of the indications being sought, including for the treatment of heartburn and other symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease.

While not a member of either major biotechnology index, shares of Soligenix, Inc. (SNGX.OB) increased 317% during 2009.  In January, the company reached agreement with the FDA on the design of a confirmatory, pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial evaluating its lead product orBec® for the treatment of acute gastrointestinal Graft-versus-Host Disease [GVHD].  The following month, Soligenix announced a potential $30 million North American partnership agreement with Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals for orBec and in October 2009 initiated patient enrollment in the confirmatory Phase 3 trial that is expected to complete with clinical data available in the first half of 2011.

Next, the bad:

As discussed in our December 2009 article “Graft Versus Host Disease: Failures and Future Opportunities,” Osiris Therapeutics, Inc. (OSIR) recently reported preliminary results from two Phase 3 trials evaluating its Prochymal product candidate for the treatment of acute GVHD.  Unfortunately, neither trial reached its primary endpoint, sending shares from $14 to a 52-week low of $5.35 by November 2009, earning the company a spot in the top ten decliners for the year [see Table 2].

The other two casualties working in the area of gastrointestinal disease and appearing in the top ten decliners for 2009 are:

  • Progenics Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (PGNX), which announced in October 2009 that the company regained worldwide rights to Relistor® [methylnaltrexone bromide] for the treatment of opioid-induced constipation from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.  Global net sales of Relistor for the third quarter of 2009 were a mere $3.3 million, as compared to $3.2 million in sales for the previous quarter.
  • In the absence of any negative clinical or regulatory news, NPS Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NPSP) stated it remains on track to reach full patient enrollment before the end of the first quarter of 2010 for a confirmatory Phase 3 trial with Gattex™ (teduglutide), the company’s proprietary analog of naturally occurring human glucagon-like peptide 2 [GLP-2], for the treatment of short bowel syndrome [SBS].  NPS believes that positive results from the trial, expected to complete in October 2010 according to ClinicalTrials.gov, will enable the company to seek U.S. marketing approval for Gattex.

Table 2. Top ten decliners from NASDAQ Biotech Index (NBI) in 2009

Company Name Symbol 12/31/08 Close 12/31/09 Close % Change
Sequenom, Inc. SQNM $19.840 $4.140 -79%
GTx, Inc. GTXI $16.840 $4.200 -75%
MiddleBrook Pharmaceuticals, Inc. MBRK $1.500 $0.510 -66%
Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. IDIX $5.790 $2.150 -63%
Osiris Therapeutics, Inc. OSIR $19.160 $7.140 -63%
Progenics Pharmaceuticals Inc. PGNX $10.310 $4.440 -57%
Questcor Pharmaceuticals, Inc. QCOR $9.310 $4.750 -49%
NPS Pharmaceuticals, Inc. NPSP $6.210 $3.400 -45%
Discovery Laboratories, Inc. DSCO $1.120 $0.628 -44%
The Medicines Company MDCO $14.730 $8.340 -43%

 

2010 Outlook

The capital markets remain turbulent and there may be casualties along the way among undercapitalized companies, but many of the biotechnology industry’s fundamentals, such as the number of products in clinical trials, new product approvals, profitable biotech companies and industry mergers & acquisitions remain favorable for 2010. Similar to 2009, small capitalization companies with clinical or regulatory catalysts should continue to outperform their larger industry peers in the year ahead.

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