Dendreon's Provenge Study, And Takeout Target Updates


Before I get to my favorite biotech saga, there are noteworthy, if not newsworthy, press releases out this morning from two takeout targets. Genentech put out a statement from the special independent board committee that's been appointed to handle the Roche buyout offer.

To no one's surprise, the panel says 89 bucks a share ain't enough.But the three directors would consider a higher number. The stock hit another new high of 99 dollars this morning.

In the meantime--and I think this item in the last paragraph of the release is the most interesting--Genentech is going to do what it can to try to keep employees from sending out their resumes and running for the exits. "In light of the tremendous importance of Genentech's employees to the company's success, the special committee has approved the implementation of a broad-based employee retention program to address any employee concerns created by the Roche proposal." Genentech's CEO Art Levinson has consistently defended the company's pre-existing, widespread employee stock options program.

Deutche Bank's Mark Schoenebaum is already out with a blitz note to clients. He thinks negotiations will start soon and that "resolution" will come within one to two months, "but not assured", he adds parenthetically. Schoenebaum says the press release has a friendly tone and so, he concludes, "consummation of a deal continues to seem likely to us."

Before that release went out, ImClone Systemsannounced--drumroll, please--that the first patient has now been treated in a late-stage study of an experimental drug for breast cancer. This looks to me like a not-so-veiled negotiating tactic to tout the value of the company's drug development pipeline as part of its effort to get Bristol-Myers Squibb to up its offer. I mean, come on, does IMCL really think that a press release trumpeting the fact that the first woman in a clinical trial is now on drug is something that's gonna get media play? Aside from my mention of it here, of course. The stock's hovering around $64, which is $4 higher than BMY's "full and fair" bid.

And finally to Dendreon. After the company reported earnings late yesterday, analysts are out with research notes to clients about the upcoming sneak-peek at the results of the pivotal study of DNDN's prostate cancer drug Provenge. Jonathan Aschoff at Brean Murray Carret & Co. is reiterating his "Sell" rating on DNDN. On the conference call, Dendreon officials reportedly said the so-called interim analysis of the Provenge test will occur in October. But Aschoff writes, "We do not expect positive interim results...or positive final results in (the second half of 2009) for overall survival...." Overall survival is the clinical term for "how much longer people live" and is considered the gold standard in cancer drug studies. Brean Murray makes a market in DNDN and would like to do investment banking for the company.

Joel Sendek at Lazard Capital Markets agrees that the interim checkup won't show a statistically significant improvement in overall survival. But he believes in the final analysis there's a chance the drug may achieve its main goal. He's got a "Hold" rating on DNDN. Lazard has banked DNDN and makes a market in the stock. If the interim analysis is strong enough, though, Dendreon plans to file for Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug based on those results.

I was planning on asking FDA Commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, a question or two about Dendreon when he guest hosted "Squawk Box" tomorrow. But two days ago, through a spokesperson, he canceled his previously confirmed appearance due to a "scheduling conflict." His people now tell a Squawk producer/booker he might be available for one hour sometime in September, but nothing's set as I write this. I'll keep you posted.

Questions? Comments?