BioSpace BioPharm Exec
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference Sets the Tone for 2010

Another year kicks off, another J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco (the 28th!) comes and goes. Perhaps you were there. Or perhaps you're just too great a respecter of fire codes to jam yourself into the atherosclerotic hallways of the Westin St. Francis.

No matter. Between blog posts and twitter feeds, one could easily keep up in real time. (Or better than real time, since the burden of the flesh limits us to being in one place at a time, while a truly dedicated Twitterphile can be in many places at once). And in case all that wasn't enough, J.P. Morgan did a four-hour (!!) conference call for clients recapping the whole thing.

If the event is a barometer for the year to come in biotech, then 2010 looks a lot more promising than last year, when a downcast crowd moped around for most of a week before heading home to sell everything they owned. This year, the Nasdaq Biotech Index and the AMEX Pharmaceutical Index broke out to a new 52-week highs as the conference wrapped up, and went briefly higher afterward (last year, it was in the process of plunging). At least one tweet declared it to be the best business development environment ever. More...

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What is good for the heart is good for the head, goes the old adage, and that may apply to angiotensin receptor blockers like Merck's Cozaar. Patients on this and similar drugs had significantly less risk of developing dementia in a recently published retrospective study, while Alzheimer's disease appeared to progress more slowly. Drug companies might be more excited if many of these drugs, like Cozaar, weren't about to go generic. Meanwhile, Novelos lost one more competitor in the lung cancer space as Pfizer decided to bow out of development of figitumumab.
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He may have survived numerous skirmishes with Carl Icahn, but now he's had enough. And it must sting a little that when James Mullen announced he'd be retiring from Biogen Idec in June, the stock rallied. But the 20-year veteran of Biogen got a last laugh in at the J.P. Morgan conference--when asked about the search for a replacement, he said he was recommending someone who "looks exactly like me but with more hair." Hmmm....
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Nevertheless, deals are still happening out there. We have Big Pharmas fighting over a generic manufacturer, and a Big Pharma in a hostile scrap for a device/consumer products company. It seems the place to be, if you are a traditional pharma company, is still anywhere but traditional pharma. Oh! And Amgen is actually out-licensing instead of in-licensing.
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That broad-ranging healthcare reform is now probably scuttled because Sen. Ted Kennedy's Senate seat was lost to a Republican is a level of meta-irony that is hard to fathom. But there you have it: Scott Brown, an anti-reform member of the GOP, is to become the new junior Senator from Massachusetts. It seems like the only chance for reform to pass now is if Congress can jam through a version of the bill for President Obama's signature before Brown is seated. But given the fragile coalition of the barely willing that got the Senate bill passed in the first place, that's a long-shot.

And hey, not to be selfish or anything, but what about our follow-on biologics legislation? It will go down with the larger reform bill, if that's what indeed happens. However, there is broad enough bipartisan support around that portion of the legislation that it, at least, will probably be resurrected at some point in the near-ish future.
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Karl Thiel is an analyst for The Motley Fool, a columnist for BioWorld Today, and a contributor to Nature Biotechnology. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

You may contact Karl Thiel at Karl.thiel@biospace.com.

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