Wyeth & Elan Are Real Hot Topic At Investor Meeting


I'm at the Needham & Company biotech conference in New York City. Whenever possible I like to attend events like this. It's a good place to get story ideas. The Needham meeting is competing this year with a similar one being put on by Goldman Sachs in Laguna Beach, CA.

Hmmm...midtown Manhattan in scorching summer heat and humidity or the Pacific Ocean? I didn't choose wisely, but something tells me my bosses just might have pushed back if I said, "I really need to go to this healthcare investment conference in Laguna to network."

Anyway, in addition to all of the company presentations there are a number of "Meet the Experts" sessions featuring rock star docs talking about hot topics.

So, I went to the one at lunch today on Alzheimer's Disease. Dr. Steven Ferris from NYU was the speaker. He has done consulting and worked on clinical trials for nearly all of the major companies developing or selling AD drugs.

He opened his talk by saying he could sense the level of anticipation in the room. "I see a lot of tea leaves out on the tables," Dr. Ferris said, referring to the pending Wyeth and Elan test results I blogged about yesterday.

"I don't have any inside information," he continued. "And I wouldn't give it to you if I did."

"Everybody's holding their breath for the phase two (mid-stage) Elan-Wyeth data," Dr. Ferris said.

He talked about the various classes of drugs, including the one from WYE and ELN that are designed to attack the plaque in the brain that many experts believe may cause Alzheimer's. "This is where all of the excitement is," Dr. Ferris said.

But the suspected culprit of the disease is the subject of much debate. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, though, is that Alzheimer's is a fast-growing problem. Dr. Ferris said the number of people with it will triple or quadruple in the next half a century. "Alzheimer's is gonna bankrupt Medicare," he said bluntly.

Finally, a shout out to Isis Pharmaceuticals Executive VP Dr. Jeff Jonas for refreshing brevity. (CEO Stanley Crooke is on vacation.) The presenters from publicly held companies always have to recite what's called a "Safe Harbor Statement". It's a Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory thing that is usually full of legalese. Most execs just put up the PowerPoint page with the 17 or so lines of fine print and say something like, "Here's the safe harbor statement" and then read a few sentences or sometimes all of it. Yawn.

They rarely, if ever, deviate from that script. So, that's why I applaud Dr. Jonas' cool paraphrase during his session this afternoon. First of all, his very last slide was the safe harbor statement--it's normally toward the top. And then he said, "I'm not gonna read it. Take everything with a grain of salt. It's a risky business." Couldn't have said it better myself.

UPDATE: Part of a press release from the CDC late this afternoon: Alzheimer's disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The CDC estimates that 72,914 Americans died of Alzheimer's disease in 2006. With an unprecedented historic population shift of 78 million aging baby boomers in the country and this disease poised to strike 10 million boomers - it is clear this escalating epidemic must be addressed now.

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