Some Tongue-in-Cheek Fantasy Baseball (and Biotech) Picks

Xconomy National — 

Baseball season starts this week, which means it’s time for me to spend too much time and energy on fantasy baseball. This is a strange little hobby in which millions of people use a combination of real-time data, news, and intuition to pick an imaginary team of baseball players that they hope will beat the tar out of the imaginary teams picked by their friends.

You need talent, work ethic, and luck in baseball (both real and fantasy). The game is full of all kinds of fascinating human characters, like overpriced free agents, eager rookies, cheaters, superstars, crafty veterans, and all kinds of bad and good managers. Possibly because I am a sucker for baseball/life analogies, I couldn’t resist applying some tongue-in-cheek baseball-inspired awards, predictions, and observations to the biotech beat.

Here goes:

The Hanley Ramirez Comeback Player of the Year Award: Vivus (NASDAQ: VVUS). The shortstop-turned-third baseman for the Miami Marlins is formerly one of the game’s elite players, and reports are that he’s been hammering the ball again in spring training after an injury-plagued 2011. Vivus, the Mountain View, CA-based drug developer, is also coming off a bad year, when few people thought it had much of a chance to win FDA approval of its obesity drug phentermine and topiramate (Qnexa). But the company recently won a surprisingly lopsided 20-2 recommendation for its drug from an FDA advisory committee, and most analysts expect it will get the FDA’s green light by the agency’s April 17 deadline. Even if Vivus fails to live up to some of the lofty multibillion-dollar sales forecasts out there, it’s still an impressive turnaround. I personally think its sales potential is being overhyped at the moment—Vivus’s drug offered modest weight-loss benefit in clinical trials—but since obesity represents such a vast market opportunity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this company acquired this year for a big premium above its $1.9 billion valuation.

The Brett Lawrie Don’t-Believe-The-Hype Award: Social media in healthcare. Just like the 22-year-old third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, social media in healthcare is a youngster with seemingly unlimited potential. But Lawrie hasn’t proven he can perform over the course of a full major league season, has developed a groin injury this spring, and yet he’s getting drafted in fantasy leagues ahead of proven All-Stars. While social media holds a lot of potential for biotech and pharma marketers—there are a lot of highly engaged patients there to communicate with—the FDA hasn’t shown a willingness to lay down marketing rules of the road like with other communications platforms such as print, online media, and television. I’m a fan of what social networking can do in a lot of ways, and there are some promising things already happening in this space (PatientsLikeMe), but the burden is on its boosters to show that patients will truly engage in large numbers. My belief is that as more people become concerned about privacy on social media platforms, the first thing they will clam up about is their health status. Do you really want to share your experience on the latest drug for enlarged prostate, or the new hemorrhoid cream?

The Yu Darvish Wild Card of the Year: Biogen Idec’s dexpramipexole. The right-handed ace pitcher from Japan was signed for this year by the Texas Rangers, and all projections are that he’s ready to mow down major league hitters. But you just never know until you play the games. I’m similarly unsure what to make of Biogen’s compound for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the neurodegenerative disease that famously caused the death of Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. The underlying biology of this disease is poorly understood, and no one has ever come up with a good drug for ALS. But Biogen, the leading multiple sclerosis drugmaker, has placed a big bet on this other neurodegenerative disease with “Dex” in a Phase III clinical trial. Analyst Michael Yee of RBC Capital Markets says that based on interviews with leading physicians, he thinks this drug has about a 35 percent chance of success at reaching its goal of helping improve patients’ functional ability and/or helping them live longer. If Biogen can hit its endpoint, this would be huge news for ALS patients, and a $1 billion market opportunity, Yee says.

The Clayton Kershaw Keeper League Pick: Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ ivacaftor (Kalydeco) for cystic fibrosis. In a fantasy baseball “keeper league” you get to retain a few players from one year to the next, so there’s incentive … Next Page »

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4 responses to “Some Tongue-in-Cheek Fantasy Baseball (and Biotech) Picks”

  1. At least you didn’t call it the Chone Figgins Comeback Award… lol

    Entertaining article. Thank goodness the season is here!


  2. David—I wince just thinking about Figgins the last couple years with the Mariners. Where is that guy who used to play for the Angels, who could slap singles all over the field, play every position, and steal bases like crazy?

  3. How about A-Rod = Pfizer? Both are cash-rich giants of their respective industries, and based in NYC, but both have delivered only marginal results over the last few years, perhaps getting by on reputation.

    A few more bio-baseball analogies at

  4. Tim—I love that analogy! Only problem is that I drafted ARod in my fantasy league, couldn’t resist when he slipped all the way to Round 6. Not sure stock investors can get such a bargain on Pfizer shares these days.