Archive Pharmas Market with Mike Huckman

  Friday, 30 Apr 2010 | 10:51 AM ET

A Bittersweet Pill To Swallow

Posted ByMike Huckman

I hate goodbyes. So, rather than get all sappy and sentimental, I'm just gonna say, "Thank you."

Thank you to CNBC President Mark Hoffman for hiring me.

»Read more
  Wednesday, 21 Apr 2010 | 2:35 PM ET

I Am Done With Dendreon

Posted ByMike Huckman

My last day at CNBC is May 7th. I've decided to make a career change.

Because my next act will include working within the health care sector, to avoid even the appearance of a conflict in my remaining days here at CNBC, I won't be blogging or reporting anymore about stock-related stories on my previous beat.

So, yes, that means I won't be able to report on the next chapter in the Dendreon saga. The FDA is scheduled to decide on or before May 1st whether to approve the biotech's prostate cancer treatment.

I've probably been covering Dendrama longer than any other story I've reported on in my eight years or so following biopharma. And it's certainly been my favorite...not the drug, the company, or the stock, mind you...but the story.

My colleague Bertha Coombs, who you can follow on Twitter , and my producer, Ruth, will stay on top of the news. I'll be watching and, sure, wishing I were covering the culmination of a story I've owned—at least on TV—for so long. Dendreonian conspiracy theorists should not read anything into this. It's simply a matter of timing and ethics.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more
  Monday, 12 Apr 2010 | 12:53 PM ET

The Funny Business Of Selling Drugs

Posted ByMike Huckman

With a nod to my colleague Jane Wells' "Funny Business" blog and at the risk of getting armies of pharma sales reps mad at me, I am sending out a DVR alert for Episode 15 from the second season of an HBO animated comedy called, "The Life And Times Of Tim."

The show is a bawdy, hilarious send-up of doctors' offices that are overrun by so-called "Meals on Heels." That's industry slang for the stereotypical short-skirted, wheely-bag toting, lunch-catering drug sales reps.

»Read more
  Wednesday, 7 Apr 2010 | 3:32 PM ET

Buy, Sell, Hold, Tweet?

Posted ByMike Huckman

Alkermes CEO Richard Pops has company. Well, sort of.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 6 Apr 2010 | 12:31 PM ET

Butler's Brad Stevens and His Lilly Launching Pad

Posted ByMike Huckman
Brad Stevens
Getty Images
Brad Stevens

Butler's Gordon Hayward threw a closing buzzer, half-court, long shot against Duke last night. It was oh-so-close. But when Butler coach Brad Stevens threw caution to the wind 10 years ago, it turns out it was a slam dunk.

I tuned in for only the last five minutes of the NCAA tournament final. So, I didn't hear Jim Nantz mention earlier in the broadcast the blogworthy backstory of Butler coach Brad Stevens. Fortunately, my colleague Jane Wells was watching and listening at the time and she tweeted the nugget to my attention.

Indianapolis' Butler recruited Stevens out of Indianapolis'

Eli Lilly

, which had recruited Stevens straight out of Indiana's DePauw University.

Stevens started at LLY in 1999, but he didn't stay there very long. He worked at the drugmaker's headquarters for less than a year as a marketing associate, which a spokesman says means Stevens might have done strategy, research, support, promotion, financial stuff, etc. Stevens is reportedly a math whiz. The woman who hired, mentored and befriended Stevens at Lilly is apparently out of the country and wasn't available to fill me in on all the details. quotes DePauw coach Bill Fenlon who had encouraged Stevens to leave behind the cushy confines of the pharmaceutical industry and give Butler basketball a shot. "If you do it and it doesn't work out, Eli Lilly isn't going anywhere. You're only 24 years old," Fenlon says he told Stevens at the time.

Stevens, of course, took his former coach's advice.

He recently told another reporter, "As I've grown older, I appreciate what I had at Lilly even more than I did back then. It's not like life was bad. It was just one of those things where I wanted to take a shot and see what happens."

Stevens eventually replaced Todd Lickliter as Butler's head coach. If he had stayed at Lilly, who knows? Maybe someday, as fate would have it, (and how else do you explain the uncanny similarity between the two uncommon names?) he would've replaced a guy who goes by Lechleiter.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more
  Monday, 5 Apr 2010 | 3:30 PM ET

What's In A Number At Boston Scientific

Posted ByMike Huckman

Ray Elliott put in less than six months on the job last year at Boston Scientific as the medical device maker's new CEO. But, according to "The New York Times," in that short amount of time Elliott received enough total compensation to make him the second-highest paid head honcho behind only Oracle's Larry Ellison (albeit a distant #2.) All in, Elliott reportedly received $33.4 million.

If you're interested in going behind the numbers, you can read all about it in BSX's SEC filing under the "Executive Compensation" section . Elliott's base annual salary is $1.2 million. The company also gave the former Zimmer Holdings CEO a sign-on bonus of a million-and-a-half bucks. Elliott also received nearly a million dollars to pay for his move to Boston. And, oh, they gave him a $78,000 "cost of living allowance."

But things may not be quite as they seem.

The overwhelming majority of Elliott's 2009 total compensation was in stock options that are under water and probably will be for a pretty long time. The deal gets rather complex and detailed, but the company granted him 3.4 million options that vest in installments over four years and with an exercise price of $9.51 a share, which was the closing price on the day he got them. The stock right now is worth a little more than seven bucks a share. There's also a bunch of performance-based rewards built in, including one-and-a-quarter million so-called "deferred stock units" that are only good if the stock stays above 20 bucks for at least 10 straight trading days. (The minimum stock value tied to Elliott's "DSUs" goes up to as much as $30 over time.) Again, BSX is trading for seven-dollars-and-change today.

Regardless of whether the $33.4 million figure is inaccurate or misleading, the timing and publicity over the rather eye-popping amount couldn't be worse for BSX. The company is reeling from a recall of and brouhaha over a redesigned implantable cardio defibrillator. Investors have punished the stock and rewarded the shares of Boston Scientific's top competitors Medtronic and St. Jude Medical . Given the current situation, Elliott certainly has his work cut out for him. Whether he's adequately, over- or under-compensated for that work is for shareholders to decide.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more
  Thursday, 1 Apr 2010 | 2:45 PM ET

The FDA's Big, Fat Advisory Committee Meeting

Posted ByMike Huckman
Comstock Images | Getty Images

FDA advisory committee votes sometimes end in confusion.

First, because the actual vote often gets all convoluted and recounted as some panelists hem and haw about voting thumbs up or thumbs down and try to equivocate their decision. And second, because no matter how many times I've explained it to people here, the votes get misread and miscommunicated as actual approval or rejection of a drug versus a recommendation that the FDA clear or spike a drug.

For the uninitiated, FDA advisory committees are outside panels of experts the agency convenes to review the safety and/or effectiveness of a product. They only give advice to the FDA, they don't make decisions for the agency, but nonetheless they represent a key regulatory hurdle. For investors they can be a major source of uncertainty ahead of a meeting and a fast, stock-moving trigger when a vote is tallied. The term itself may sound boring and bureaucratic, but in the biopharma/investment world advisory committees are a big deal.

And there could be a barnburner of a panel meeting this July.

Vivus recently announced that an advisory committee will review its diet pill Qnexa on July 15th. Some analysts believe Arena Pharmaceuticals , which filed for FDA approval of its weightloss drug around the same time, will get put through the wringer at the same meeting. So far, ARNA hasn't announced that it has a date. Then late yesterday, Orexigen pulled up the rear . It's the last of the three companies in this race to bring a new prescription diet drug to market to file for FDA approval. And even though OREX submitted its paperwork months after the other two, it's certainly possible that it, too, could be thrown onto the plate of the July 15th panel.

If that happens, my guess is the event becomes a two-day affair. For example, ARNA says its application is three million pages! Of course, the panel doesn't have to pore through all that, but you get the picture. It's dense, detailed data. And given the history of prescription diet pills, the FDA and its outside experts are going to go through the safety and side-effect issues of each company's drug with an ultra-fine-toothed comb.

But here's where the meeting could have high drama.

If this committee were to take up all three drugs at one sitting, can you imagine the anticipation as they vote on the fate of each pill? If the first one passes muster, would that mean the other two would sail through? Or might the panel favor one drug over the others? Or favor two drugs over another? The handicapping, spin and analysis would be intense, to say the least. For reporters it'd be a field day. For the companies it'd be a nail-biting experience. And for investors it'd be a crapshoot.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more
  Wednesday, 31 Mar 2010 | 3:30 PM ET

Darn Those Genzyme Gremlins

Posted ByMike Huckman

One thing you learn quickly in the "live" TV-news business is that you're always at the mercy of the technology. Sometimes, Murphy's Law rules and there's nothing you can do about it. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. A camera battery dies right as the anchor in the studio is tossing to you out in the field, a competitor's microwave signal (inadvertantly?) interferes with yours and causes the picture to fill with static, the sound being fed back into your earpiece gets left on reverb because someone in the production booth didn't push a button. All those things and many more have happened to me and my colleagues repeatedly. It's never fun, but you've gotta get used to it.

Well, today beleaguered biotech Genzyme is getting schooled on all that.

This afternoon GENZ is holding an analyst/investor meeting and conducting a show-and-tell tour at its Boston manufacturing plant. It's the one that got contaminated last year and which the FDA will almost certainly assume temporary jurisdiction over in the near future. The stock tanked on that regulatory revelation and a subsequent analyst downgrade last week.

But, oh! The irony. At a meeting designed to convince the Street the company is well on its way to correcting a major manufacturing problem, a simple technical glitch keeps executives from conveying that message to a broader, off-site audience.

The webcast of the event started without a hitch. As the embattled Chairman and CEO Henri Termeer kicked it off with prepared opening remarks, I was sitting at my desk listening to it, ready to tweet away with quoteable quotes But shortly into his presentation, the audio suddenly cut out and for nearly half an hour all of the presentations were muffled and unintelligible.

Eventually, it got straightened out.

Investors only wish the manufacturing problems could have been solved as quickly, easily and inexpensively.

After the audio came back, Genzyme officials said they expect to start negotiations with the FDA soon, but that it's too early to tell how much, including a to-be-determined amount of profit disgorgement, this whole mess is ultimately going to cost in time and money. But it could cost Termeer, the longest-serving big biotech CEO, his job. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn is trying to get himself and three of his people on the GENZ board. And if he wins, many say heads are gonna roll.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more
  Monday, 29 Mar 2010 | 2:52 PM ET

Abbott's White Is The (Only) One

Posted ByMike Huckman

You need to buy the paper edition for $5 or subscribe to the website to see it for yourself, but Barron's has put only one biopharma honcho on its annual list of the world's top-30 CEOs.

»Read more
  Friday, 26 Mar 2010 | 2:51 PM ET

Fat Thursday For Vivus

Posted ByMike Huckman

Vivusannounced this morning that an FDA advisory committee is tentatively scheduled to take a look at its diet drug Qnexa on Thursday, July 15th. If the outside panel of experts gives the weightloss pill thumbs up then the company expects the agency to make a decision on whether to approve it on or before October 28th.

But Leerink Swann analyst Steve Yoo thinks that Vivus and Arena could have a double-date on the 15th of July. Although Arena hasn't made an announcement yet, Yoo is telling clients in a research note that because the two companies filed for FDA approval of their diet pills within days of each other, that they'll probably both get their drugs reviewed by an advisory committee at the same time. Orexigen , the remaining little biopharma company with an obesity fighter in late-stage development, says it plans to file for approval of its drug Contrave by the end of next month.

The FDA usually, but not always, follows the advice of its outside panels. And with diet drugs, in particular, the agency is, no doubt, going to apply extra scrutiny. There's the fen-phen diet drug craze of the 90s that led to some people having heart trouble. The pill ended up being pulled off the market and Wyeth had to pay billions of dollars in damages. Then, a few years ago Sanofi-Aventis had a drug called Zimulti that some analysts were saying was going to be a mega-blockbuster wonder pill. But an advisory committee killed it over concerns about psychiatric side effects.

That kind of uncertainty is why many believe that potential corporate partners for VVUS, ARNA and OREX are going to wait to see if the companies can clear this huge regulatory hurdle before handing over any cash. Again, these are small companies and so if or when their drugs get approved, they're likely going to need the help of a much bigger company's sales force to market them. And, of course, there's always the possibility that one, two or all three of them just get bought.

July is shaping up to be a big month for regulatory action in biopharma. In addition to the Qnexa meeting, the FDA had already announced it's going to have a special super-sized advisory committee in July re-review the safety of Glaxo's diabetes drug Avandia. Better book a room now in Gaithersburg or Silver Spring, Maryland--the two places the agency holds these things. Why the FDA doesn't do them in Washington, DC is one of the many mysteries surrounding the agency.

Questions? Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

»Read more