The JPMorgan Healthcare Conference wrapped up this week, and while there were a lot of interesting things that came out of the conference, I couldn't help but feel unsatisfied in a few areas.
"Our fourth-quarter sales were $X"
Plenty of companies actually filled in the blank. Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG ) issued preliminary fourth quarter sales numbers as it usually does. Ditto for Cubist and Viropharma.
But VIVUS (NASDAQ: VVUS ) only reported the number of prescriptions for its obesity drug, Qsymia, that launched last year. While a 68% month-over-month increase is pretty impressive, the actual number of prescriptions -- about 13,000 for the four weeks ending Dec 21. -- is pretty pathetic.
It's understandable why VIVUS might not want to point that out that sales for the quarter will likely be under $5 million. And the sales number could be even worse since VIVUS has been giving away a two-week supply of the drug to encourage patients to get started. VIVUS can't hide the sales number forever. Expect its fourth-quarter earnings call next month.
"The FDA loves our drug"
I would have loved to hear that from Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT ) . Investors are anxiously awaiting word from the company about whether the FDA thinks it should apply for an accelerated approval for its Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment eteplirsen. Investors didn't get that information at JPMorgan because the company, as expected, hasn't met with the FDA yet.
The lack of disclosure brings up the big limitation to the conference. It is, after all, just a snapshot in time. Without preliminary sales numbers or guidance for the year ahead, most development-stage drugmakers aren't going to have much new to say. As excited as investors are for the information, clinical trial data will come when it's available. FDA meetings will occur when they happen.
Of course, if you knew nothing about Sarepta, its JPMorgan presentation was a great introduction to eteplirsen's potential. That's really the strength of the JPMorgan conference, a one-stop shop to learn about companies you know nothing -- or very little -- about. The on-demand webcasts will be up for a little while -- some are taken down sooner than others -- and I encourage you to view at least one webcast of a company on your watchlist.
"We acquired X for $Y billion"
I have mixed feelings about this one. Admittedly, I missed the large acquisition that we sometimes see at JPMorgan mostly because they're exciting and get the blood pumping. Inhibitex's investors made out like bandits -- a 163% premium over the previous close --- when Bristol-Myers Squibb announced the acquisition at last year's JPMorgan.
But I'm rooting for the big guys, too. And the biotechs should be, too. Too many stupid overpriced deals and pharmas will go out of business. And then who will fund late-stage drug development?
Pharmas and big biotech are much better off doing licensing deals where they pay as they go with milestone payments. It likely costs more in the long run, and the payout isn't as great because biotechs usually demand royalties as part of the deal, but the risk remains mostly on the shoulders of the biotech. If the drug fails, as Inhibitex's drug did, the pharma can walk away for a minimal investment, instead of being out billions as Bristol-Myers is.
Amgen and Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD ) both announced deals to license technology at JPMorgan for small upfront payments and bigger biobucks if the drugs work. Kudos to the companies.
Small acquisitions, like the $350 million one that Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN ) announced during the conference, can also make sense. Even Illumina's acquisition of Verinata Health had a hedge-your-bet component where the owners are due up to another $100 million if undisclosed milestones are met .
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