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Episode 22: Scam I Am

If you missed previous episodes of the biotech-themed soap opera "All My Clones," click here to read the beginning of the story.

Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals started 2009 by completing the reverse merger with Bone Yard Productions to form PNAS Productions. The result was favorable for Cappuccino, now a division of PNAS. While cash shells often require that senior management keep their jobs after a reverse merger, Bone Yard management was happy to leave the chief executive position in the hands of Cappuccino's CEO, Rupert Madasheck. The influx of cash from the deal made up for his last deviation from biomedicine, the fiasco when Rupert thought that "time reversal" meant "time travel."

The Upside of the Madoff Scam
The next board meeting was right after Bernie Madoff's list of scammed victims became public. Board members arrived early and frantically searched for names they recognized. They scarcely noticed the drawn window blinds and the room lit by a monochromatic wash of green.

Executive chair Betty Lidalot stepped into the boardroom on her Roger Vivier Violetta sandals. She flopped into the Herman Miller Embody chair at the head of the table and glanced at her Matres du Temps Chapter One watch in disgust. Why pay $400,000 for a watch if it insists the meeting must start? she thought.

The speakerphone buzzed, and the voice of Rupert asked, "Are you folks in there checking Madoff contributors? I'll be there soon — and quit worrying. If you're on the list, your money went for a worthy cause."

"Like WHAT?" cried a chorus of outraged voices.

"Oh," Rupert answered hazily, "it disappeared. Or more precisely, it was rendered invisible."

"That is the STUPIDEST thing I've ever heard!" shouted the recently appointed VP of Research, Dr. John Portaupoht. Appareled in a Jack Victor lambswool sport coat over a Robert Talbott sport shirt and Indigo Palms denim jeans, Portaupoht looked like a visitor from Colorado. "Rupert, you can't just make things invisible. Get in here and quit screwing around!"

"It's about time we had at least one take-charge person around here," Betty said approvingly. "Besides myself of course."

The First Prototype for Disappearing Finances
The boardroom's monochromatic light changed from green to bright yellow — and there was Rupert. Shedding the informal look of the last board meeting, he looked dashing in the Armani Collezioni three-button suit and shirt. Betty noticed that the boating shoes were gone and he was wearing SOCKS with his Zegna Abburatto buckled loafers. "Things disappear," he said pointedly at Portaupoht. "Sometimes people do, too."

The room color changed from yellow to red — and Portaupoht disappeared. A soft "Sschunk!" sound passed across the room. When the color changed back to green, Portaupoht was gone. "Invisibility also covers resolution of personnel issues," Rupert commented dryly.

"Ever since he proposed that we develop the world's first OTC oral chemotherapy drug ..." Betty shook her head. "I didn't think Portaupoht would ever measure up. Not even a tie. Both Obama and Biden have ties. Either red or blue. Period."

The other board members took note: Casual was out. Several of them quietly slipped the clip-on ties they had hidden in a coat pocket.

"Madoff's $50 billion went to fund Invisibility cloaks — reported in the January 2 Science magazine — for practical applications," Rupert explained. "Madoff is now king of Ponzi schemes," he continued, "but there were others dubbed the 'mini-Madoffs.' They were trying to get a piece of the action, but Madoff had the advantage of the first prototype."

"OK, but what does this have to do with therapeutics?" pressed Betty. "Are you proposing we make nonresponding patients disappear? Or FDA inspectors?"

"It actually has more to do with finances," Rupert spoke in a hushed tone. "Bone Yard brought a huge bolus of cash, but we are still owed millions for royalties and licensing fees. George?"

CFO George Contenumbaes looked up from the calculations scattered around him, his blue clip-on tie askew. "You may have read in BioWorld Today," he explained, "some Spanish bill collectors have appeared at annual shareholders' meetings and prestigious conferences — accompanied by bagpipes proclaiming, 'these guys owe us $47.3 million!' Wouldn't it be easier to enter ... unobtrusively?"

"Let's leave that to the accounts receivable department," Betty said worriedly. "Let's get back to medicine."

Drug Combos and a Merger Offer
"As you recall, we are celebrating the ongoing clinical trials for the lidocaine/prilacaine dosed aerosol for the treatment of premature ejaculation," Rupert said cheerily.

"Oh, Sordixal," said Board member Euneeda Kashenkari. "And its combination with generic Viagra."

"Ever since Khairallah and colleagues showed that Viagra could help muscular dystrophy patients ..." began CSO Dr. Dick Wyllie.

"No way!" laughed Kashenkari.

"Way," retorted Betty. "It was in PNAS."

"PNAS?" Kashenkari was confused. "Isn't that our new company's name?"

"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences!" hissed the socially inept Wyllie.

"We compete with Rexahn's Zoraxel for treatment of erectile dysfunction as an orally administered tablet," continued Rupert as loudly as possible. "Our own GomanGoforal paired with Sordixal ... we needed to switch to 1000-tablet bottles!

"We are re-thinking the merger offer made by Newcogen. They agreed to waive our obligations to prepare financial statements, and we agreed to make efforts to prepare the statements, but may suspend them if we choose ... which we do. With the current financial market, they won't get working capital financing anyway."

Betty growled ominously, "Just because the premature ejac/erectile dys combo looks great, Rupert, don't get cocky! You're only as good as your latest success. Remember your 'time travel' fiasco."

"I am aware of that," Rupert replied stiffly. "Let us consider the proposal from Dr. Skamar Tiste. He filled Portaupoht's pre-VP position." Everyone involuntarily glanced at the spot where Portaupoht sat not 15 minutes ago.

A Novel Approach to Stem Cells
Dr. Tiste was summoned into the room. The pens in his overstuffed pocket protector rattled as he stumbled into the table. "Don't be nervous," Betty cooed soothingly. "Just tell us why your stem cell project is the future of our company."

Fiddling with his glasses and blinking nervously, Tiste began by shouting, "Next slide please!" The surprised board members turned completely silent. "I mean ..." he stammered, "let me go through these PowerPoint ... only 60 slides ..."

"SIXTY?!" Betty thundered.

"Get on with it," Rupert prompted. "Skip to the summary."

In the next few minutes, it dawned on the board members that Tiste had indeed proposed a novel approach to stem cell research. To avoid the issues involved with human stem cells — aside from the recently approved Geron study — Tiste was using another kind of stem cells. Stems of apples.

The boardroom's light changed to bright yellow ...

Stay tuned for future episodes to find out:

  • Does anyone at Cappuccino remember Frida the ace fundraiser? Or, now that the reverse merger has filled the bank account, has she been set on the curb and abandoned?
  • If Madoff won the race to the Invisibility cloak, how did Rupert get his hands on it?
  • Rupert's cloak uses monochromatic light. Recent publications have demonstrated that this is no longer necessary, making invisibility even more practical. Who will notice what is missing next?
  • Why is it that giggling is often heard in the room where the invisibility cloak apparatus is kept?
  • Did you find anyone you know on the list of Madoff investors?
  • Tune in next month for more "All My Clones"!

    (Have a great story that really does belong in a soap opera? Send it to biogodess@earthlink.net. All entries will be treated with full confidentiality, though we reserve the right to laugh hysterically over them in the newsroom.)

    Published: April 2, 2009