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Finding Humor in a Dire Financial Market

BioWorld Perspectives Managing Editor

Editor's note: This week's edition of BioWorld Perspectives introduces a new feature, "Short Takes." It's a new column of commentary about the best and most bizarre stories in BioWorld's newspapers, featuring snappy commentary on the industry by members of the BioWorld staff. Be sure to read future issues, where we'll continue the biotech soap opera "All My Clones" and have more cranky commentary in "BioWorld Bytes." If you'd also like to receive "Short Takes" from our sister publication, opt-in for free to receive Medical Device Daily Perspectives.

Bring on the Biotech Jokes
In a recent issue of BioWorld Today, columnist Karl Thiel started a joke but didn't include the punchline. He wrote:

Three CEOs walk into a congressional hearing. One heads an investment bank,
the other an automotive company and the third a pharmaceutical company ...

OK, I've made up the opener. Someone, somewhere, must have a conclusion to this joke.
It's begging to be told, if only so that frustrated citizens can blow off a little steam.

With the recent financial situation, most of us could use some humor to brighten the day. So BioWorld created one version of this joke that's begging to be told. Think you can do better? If so, send your version to bioperspectives@bioworld.com and we'll share it with readers next week.

Three CEOs walk into a congressional hearing. One heads an investment bank, the other an automotive company and the third a pharmaceutical company. They tell Nancy Pelosi that they are in such desperate situations that they'll foot the bill for all of her pet projects if she'll just grant them each one wish.

"Very well," Pelosi said. "What is it you want?"

The automotive executive spoke first. "Car sales are way down, and if things don't pick up, I'll lose my job and reputation" he said. "My wish is to be the head of a successful car company."

Poof!" said Pelosi. "You are now the head of a Japanese automaker."

The investment banker spoke next. "Now that the bailout was approved, people hate investment bankers even more. I want to be respected, and I want to turn this crisis around."

"Easily done!" Pelosi exclaimed. "Now you and your colleagues all make only $50K a year!"

Then the pharmaceutical executive stepped up. "All of our blockbuster drugs are going off-patent soon, and we don't have enough in the pipeline to replace them. I want our company to be innovative."

"Not a problem!" said Pelosi. "You are now the head of a biotech!"

A.P. Pharma Trial Reveals Complexities and Contradictions of Capitalism
According to a BioWorld Today article by Donna Young, "A.P. Pharma Inc.'s stock plummeted 34.8 percent ... after the firm revealed that APF530, an investigational sustained-release formulation of granisetron, failed to show superiority over Eisai Inc.'s Aloxi (palonosetron hydrochloride), an FDA-approved 5HT3 antagonist, in preventing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) in a Phase III study."

It's a bit ironic that in a capitalistic society — one that by definition thrives on competition — that being "just as good" isn't good enough. What should matter is whether it works, even if only just as well as another treatment. This seemed to be the attitude of analyst Stephen Dunn, of Dawson James, who said investors overreacted to the top-line Phase III study results.

And although it missed the endpoint of superiority over Aloxi for preventing delayed-onset CINV in the highly emetogenic chemotherapy group, the drug still achieved complete responses that were numerically higher than Eisai's drug across all four assessments, noted A.P. Pharma CEO Ronald Prentki.

If only the film and fiction industries would make their innovators show superiority to their predecessors.... Imagine a world in which modern directors and novelists had to produce like Orson Welles and Dostoevsky! We'd never have to sit through another exploitive sequel like Grease 2, Jaws 3, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. Or grimace through another reading of follow-on made-for-money novels such as The Wind Done Gone, Hannibal Rising or War and Pieces. OK, I made up that last one, but I hear Citizen Kane: Undead is currently in development!

Botox for Migraines? I Feel a Headache Coming on ...
Recently our sister publication, Medical Device Daily, reported that Botox injections are in Phase III trials by Irvine, Calif.-based Allergan Inc. for the treatment of headaches and migraines. According to staff writer Amanda Pederson, "Based on this early analysis of the two Phase III clinical trials, Allergan says it hopes to file a supplemental biologics license application (sBLA) with the FDA to use Botox in chronic migraine by the middle of next year. The company said it expects to publish full data results mid-2009."

Some insurance companies have started to cut coverage of Botox for migraines, and others currently cover it only as a last resort. If it can be proven to be an effective treatment, however, insurance companies may have little choice in whether to pay for the injections, which cost about $350 to $500 per area for cosmetic treatment. If that's the case, I predict many more baby boomers developing migraines! If the legalization of medical marijuana can bring 600 dispensaries in three years, our youth-obsessed culture is bound create an even bigger Botox market if they can pretend they really need it. The wrinkle-free forehead is just a side effect, really!

Tobacco Giant Invests in Biotech
BioWorld Today reported in Sept. 25's Financing Roundup that "Tobacco the killer also could become tobacco the healer under a strange-yet-not-so-strange bedfellows type arrangement between Canadian vaccine maker Medicago Inc. and Philip Morris International."

According to the story, "Medicago is developing vaccines against H5N1 pandemic influenza using its Virus-Like Particle (VLP) and manufacturing technologies, a transient expression system that produces recombinant vaccine antigens in nontransgenic plants. And to do that it's using tobacco, a fast-growing, large-leaf plant of which PMI has some expertise." I can't wait to see the black box warning when these hit the market. The FDA will have fits weighing therapeutic benefit vs. lethal side effect.

But it's a smart move for Philip Morris. Just as oil companies are starting to invest in biofuels, perhaps we'll see more tobacco firms looking at healthier ways to maximize their cash crop. A few other tobacco-related biotech projects reported recently in BioWorld Today include:

  • Advanced Cancer Therapeutics, of Louisville, Ky., said it has signed an agreement with Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, of Owensboro, Ky., for the exclusive worldwide development and commercialization rights to its Geneware plant-based gene expression system for development of an HPV vaccine, which uses a specifically altered tobacco mosaic virus as a vehicle to carry a target protein. Once the altered virus is introduced into the tobacco plant, the natural growth of the plant causes the protein to be reproduced in larger quantities. (See BioWorld Today, July 24, 2008.)


  • AmVac AG, of Zug, Switzerland, is starting its first research cooperation program with Bayer Innovation GmbH, of D sseldorf, Germany, on the development of a new influenza vaccine. Joint research and development work is beginning with the Bayer subsidiary Icon Genetics GmbH on a novel production approach. Antigens will be produced for the first time in tobacco plants, which along with AmVac AG's adjuvant MALP-2, will be developed into an efficient new generation of flu vaccines. (See BioWorld Today, June 13, 2008.)
  • Good News for Bt Cotton May Be Bad News for Other Crops
    In the Oct. 1, 2008, edition of BioWorld International, Science Editor Anette Breindl reported that in a recent issue of Science, "researchers reported that genetically modified cotton appears to help out its neighbors that have not been genetically modified as well. In a long-term study of six provinces of Northern China, the introduction of Bt cotton, which produces a toxin that kills moth and butterfly caterpillars, reduced the outbreaks of cotton bollworm not just on the cotton itself, but also on other, genetically unmodified crops grown in the region, including corn, soybeans and peanuts."

    Although it's great that the GM cotton is keeping the moth, the rather harmless looking Helicoverpa armigera, off of other crops as well, the reaction might not be as positive in GM-averse countries like the U.S. and Europe, as the study is more proof that the GM effects can spread rapidly to nearby crops.

    Perhaps therein resides the answer to China's quality control and global marketplace image problems. If GM cotton's ability to cure-by-proximity encompasses lead, formaldehyde, antifreeze and landfill fertilizers, perhaps China should consider storing its harvested bales of bio-cotton in the same warehouses that store its respective toy, clothing, medicine and food products.

    Did a story in BioWorld Today, BioWorld International or BioWorld Financial Watch strike you as ironic, or strike your funny bone? Let us know your thoughts on the state of biotech news by sending an e-mail to bioperspectives@bioworld.com.

    Published: October 16, 2008