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Genentech's Quiet Period Times Two

Wednesday, 14 Jan 2009 | 10:45 AM ET

I couldn't go to the formal, scripted Genentech presentation at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference yesterday afternoon because I was busy doing the crazy interview on "Fast Money" with the CEO of athenahealth, Jonathan Bush.

If you haven't seen it, take a few minutes and watch it. I've never done a CEO interview like it.

ATHN CEO Talks Pharma
New trades for the new administration, with Jonathan Bush, AthenaHealth CEO, CNBC's Mike Huckman and the Fast Money crew.

But after that was over I scurried down the hall to go to what is typically the more revealing and free-wheeling breakout session for DNA. Not this time.

It was standing, squatting and kneeling room only. Seriously, the room was so cramped a few people were sitting or kneeling on the floor.

But because DNA reports earnings Thursday after the closing bell and it continues to be very tight-lipped about the Rocheoffer, the crowd was probably disappointed.

There's such a difference between a news conference and these investor meetings. I mean, Genentech CEO Art Levinson broke the ice by saying, "We're happy to take I won't say any questions, but most questions." People laughed.

Undeterred reporters still would have jumped in with pointed, direct questions about the deal. Instead, the first few investors ask about drug data and research. Finally, someone jumps in with this softball: "Could you walk us through the Roche process?"

Levinson replied, "We're not gonna say anything you haven't heard, so if you wanna be bored I'll hand it over to David." Again, laughter. David is CFO David Ebersman who then proceeded to recite the well-documented history of the Roche buyout attempt and that was it. The investor sitting next to me immediately got up and left and others started trickling out.

Some folks who are regulars at these things say many investors are reverential to company management, in general, because they don't want their access to them cut off.

I suppose you could argue that clearly Genentech isn't gonna say much. But one of the tricks of the reporting trade is to nonetheless keep coming back around with the same or similar question, but rephrased to try to get something you can use. Sometimes it works.

I get that most investors here have a precious 30 minutes with these guys to get their many questions answered. But I still don't see why they don't press management to be at least a little more forthcoming about the big deal everyone here is talking about.

Levinson did say the company's employee retention program launched in the wake of the Roche bid has been a "big, big success." And in the coming weeks he said regular, relatively generous bonuses will be going out.

DNA has a broad employee stock options program, so if the reports are true about a pending higher offer coming from Roche, Genentech employees could soon be in for another nice bonus.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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