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hammered a number of companies with new drug applications to the turf. San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA), San Diego’s Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX), and Mountain View, CA-based Vivus (NASDAQ: VVUS) have all been dealing with post-concussion syndrome after run-ins with an FDA that appears hell-bent on stopping any new weight loss drug with side effects from reaching the market.
JaMarcus Russell bust of the year: Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN). The former No. 1 draft pick for the Oakland Raiders is a classic case of a young player with loads of talent who failed to live up to his potential on the biggest stage. Dendreon entered the marketplace last year with lofty expectations that it had a multi-billion dollar product on its hands, with the first treatment of its kind to stimulate the immune system against prostate cancer. Then the company fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line (a football metaphor I used here a couple weeks ago), as it set the drug’s price too high, which helped create some serious headaches for doctors trying to get reimbursed. There’s still time for Dendreon to make a comeback, but the company will now have to overwhelm people with excellence to win over its doubters.
Wes Welker overachiever of the year: Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon. No one in the NFL seriously thought Welker would amount to much in the league, much less become Tom Brady’s favorite target. Similarly, there were certainly plenty of reasons to doubt Plexxikon when it set out to develop a new drug for patients with a genetically distinct form of metastatic melanoma. This is a graveyard for drug development, where drugs historically work for about 10-15 percent of patients. But Plexxikon went on to secure a big partnership with Roche’s Genentech unit, and when it showed some very impressive clinical results, it got acquired by Japan-based Daiichi Sankyo in a deal that provided its VCs with a more than 13-fold return on investment. Now Daiichi/Plexxikon has made it into the major leagues, with a promising new melanoma drug on the market.
Sam Bradford rookie of the year: Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN). The company spent 14 years on its mission to become a prime time player, and it finally reached the end zone last month when it got its first drug approved by the FDA. Most young quarterbacks struggle in their rookie year, like most new drugs struggle to gain a foothold in their early days on the market, but Bradford excelled, and there’s a good chance Seattle Genetics will, too. SeaGen’s drug has compelling evidence of efficacy, no real competition, and a small but well-defined group of patients in dire need. Seattle Genetics is going to take a while to learn the ropes of this market, as with all rookies, but there’s reason to think bigger things are ahead.
Peyton Manning most valuable player: Vertex. The Colts’ quarterback, a 4-time NFL MVP, has set the standard for excellence at the position the past decade (and let’s all hope he recovers fast from his neck surgery). Genentech long ago set the standard for excellence in biotech with its great run in the 2000s with cancer drugs, and it doesn’t appear to be fading away yet as part of Roche, with new drugs like the melanoma product and a supercharged version of trastuzumab (Herceptin) on the way. But Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) has been the industry’s MVP over the past year, by nailing clinical trials with its hepatitis C drug, beating early sales expectations, and by delivering a groundbreaking drug for cystic fibrosis patients. The challenge for Vertex will be to prove it didn’t just have one career year, and that it can deliver excellence over the long haul, like Mr. Manning.
Bill Belichick coach of the year: George Scangos, CEO, Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Some wise man once said it’s better to be lucky than good, but Scangos has been both in a little more than a year at Biogen Idec. He cut through some of the organizational atherosclerosis, recruited some talented new executives, and got lucky when Biogen’s oral multiple sclerosis drug BG-12 nailed its pivotal clinical trial—kind of like how Belichick got lucky with the infamous “tuck” play in the 2002 playoffs. In Scangos’ case, the coach has kept ownership happy—with the most visible example being Carl Icahn, who made a small fortune this year selling his Biogen shares. That’s the kind of performance that will usually get the coach a contract extension.
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