Laurence Cooper and Scott Tarriff

Mi­nor­i­ty in­vestor Wa­ter­Mill suc­ceeds in ac­tivist at­tack of Zio­pharm, win­ning two board seats and re­moval of chair­man

The ac­tivist at­tack launched at Zio­pharm On­col­o­gy $ZIOP that turned in­to an ug­ly and bit­ter pub­lic feud has come to a con­clu­sion.

Two of the three board nom­i­nees put forth by 3.3% mi­nor­i­ty in­vestor Wa­ter­Mill As­set Man­age­ment Corp. will be join­ing Zio­pharm’s board af­ter re­ceiv­ing the nec­es­sary 50%+ votes from share­hold­ers, Wa­ter­Mill said Thurs­day morn­ing. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, a ma­jor­i­ty of Zio­pharm share­hold­ers vot­ed to re­call chair­man Scott Tar­riff, the firm said.

No­tably, Wa­ter­Mill founder Robert Post­ma, who first ini­ti­at­ed the at­tack in ear­ly No­vem­ber, is not join­ing the board de­spite al­so gain­ing enough sup­port from in­vestors, Wa­ter­Mill said. Zio­pharm’s board is capped at eight mem­bers and had pre­vi­ous­ly stood at sev­en pri­or to the vot­ing dead­line, al­low­ing for on­ly the two who re­ceived high­er vote shares to join with Tar­riff’s re­moval.

In ear­ly No­vem­ber, Wa­ter­Mill be­gan its at­tack seek­ing to re­place three board mem­bers and Tar­riff with three in­di­vid­u­als: Post­ma, Jaime Vieser and Hol­ger Weis. Two mem­bers of the board tar­get­ed by Wa­ter­Mill re­signed in the fol­low­ing weeks and one still re­mains.

“We wel­come Messrs. Vieser and Weis as the newest mem­bers of Zio­pharm’s Board of Di­rec­tors,” Zio­pharm said in a state­ment. “We al­so wish to thank Scott Tar­riff, a mem­ber of the Board since 2015 and Chair­man since 2018, for the nu­mer­ous pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions and tire­less com­mit­ment to the pa­tients we hope to serve.”

Full re­sults of the vote will not be avail­able un­til Zio­pharm files an up­date with the SEC, and the tim­ing of the 8-K re­mains un­clear, a com­pa­ny spokesman told End­points News. Zio­pharm de­clined to com­ment on the vote and the sta­tus of Post­ma’s po­si­tion be­yond its press re­lease.

In a state­ment, Post­ma said that Vieser and Weis “are ful­ly com­mit­ted to putting this con­test be­hind them and im­me­di­ate­ly help­ing the Board chart the right path for­ward.” He lat­er added:

While we an­tic­i­pate that many sup­port­ive share­hold­ers will be dis­ap­point­ed that our full slate is not join­ing the Board at this time, Wa­ter­Mill is con­struc­tive­ly en­gag­ing with Zio­pharm to try to en­sure that the mes­sage sent by a crit­i­cal mass of in­vestors is re­spect­ed. Wa­ter­Mill re­mains com­mit­ted to al­ways do­ing what is best for Zio­pharm.

It’s not yet clear if Wa­ter­Mill will con­tin­ue push­ing for the last in­di­vid­ual to step down and be re­placed with Post­ma, or if that ac­tion falls un­der what Post­ma says is “best” for the com­pa­ny.

Though the mi­nor­i­ty in­vestor of­fi­cial­ly be­gan its at­tack in ear­ly No­vem­ber, the Zio­pharm brouha­ha had stemmed from months of sim­mer­ing feel­ings over the com­pa­ny’s di­rec­tion. Wa­ter­Mill and oth­er in­vestors had raised ob­jec­tions over a for­mer board mem­ber at Zio­pharm’s an­nu­al meet­ing over the sum­mer, and that in­di­vid­ual was re­placed in Sep­tem­ber.

Then the board re­place­ment bid be­gan, with Wa­ter­Mill seek­ing the as­cen­sion of all three of Post­ma, Vieser and Weis in or­der to tru­ly right the ship. At the time the at­tack be­gan, Zio­pharm shares were down rough­ly 50% since the start of 2020, with Wa­ter­Mill claim­ing the board as then con­sti­tut­ed re­spond­ed to com­plaints with “clear dis­dain” and in­stalled the oust­ed board mem­ber’s boss, de­spite say­ing they’d hire an out­side firm to con­duct a search.

Things on­ly got ugli­er from there, with Zio­pharm at­tempt­ing to paint one of Wa­ter­Mill’s nom­i­nees — Weis — as unique­ly un­qual­i­fied to serve on the board. The com­pa­ny cit­ed pub­lic bank­rupt­cy fil­ings from the biotech De­meRx in 2018, which Zio­pharm said showed Weis’ his­to­ry of cor­po­rate mal­prac­tice.

Wa­ter­Mill coun­tered by say­ing Zio­pharm was en­gag­ing in a “des­per­ate, low-road smear cam­paign,” cit­ing state­ments from two for­mer De­meRx ex­ec­u­tives who vouched for Weis. Though Zio­pharm’s board saw heavy churn over the last six months, Tar­riff and CEO Lau­rence Coop­er had not re­placed any of the de­part­ing mem­bers with Wa­ter­Mill nom­i­nees.

Zio­pharm’s share prices have not ful­ly re­cov­ered since a pa­tient died in a gene ther­a­py study back in 2016 af­ter de­vel­op­ing an in­tracra­nial he­m­or­rhage 15 days af­ter start­ing treat­ment. The death was deemed to be un­re­lat­ed to the treat­ment.

Then in 2018, Zio­pharm was forced to hit the brakes on a CAR-T ther­a­py when the FDA placed a clin­i­cal hold on its Phase I study of a treat­ment that could be built in 2 days to ex­press CD-19, IL-15 and a safe­ty switch for CD-19/pos­i­tive leukemias and lym­phomas. Ear­li­er this year, though, Zio­pharm saw some ear­ly, pos­i­tive over­all sur­vival da­ta for their con­trolled IL-12 treat­ment in glioblas­toma. The com­pa­ny is al­so look­ing at com­bin­ing that ex­per­i­men­tal drug with Re­gen­eron’s Lib­tayo.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er de­buts Pre­vnar 20 TV ads; Lil­ly gets first FDA 2022 pro­mo slap down let­ter

Pfizer debuted its first TV ad for its Prevnar 20 next-generation pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. In the 60-second spot, several people (actor portrayals) with their ages listed as 65 or older are shown walking into a clinic as they turn to say they’re getting vaccinated with Prevnar 20 because they’re at risk.

The update to Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13 vaccine was approved in June, and as its name suggests is a vaccine for 20 serotypes — the original 13 plus seven more that cause pneumococcal disease. Pfizer used to spend heavily on TV ads to promote Prevnar 13 in 2018 and 2019 but cut back its TV budgets in the past two fall and winter seasonal spending cycles. Prevnar had been Pfizer’s top-selling drug, notching sales of just under $6 billion in 2020, and was the world’s top-selling vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccines came to market last year.

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Graphic: Alexander Lefterov for Endpoints News

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

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The pharma giant put out word that their FDA application for the growth hormone therapy somatrogon got the regulatory heave-ho, though they didn’t even hint at a reason for the CRL. Following standard operating procedure, Pfizer said in a terse missive that they would be working with regulators on a followup.

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Not cheap­er by the dozen: Bris­tol My­ers be­comes the 12th phar­ma com­pa­ny to re­strict 340B sales

Bristol Myers Squibb recently joined 11 of its peer pharma companies in limiting how many contract pharmacies can access certain drugs discounted by a federal program known as 340B.

Bristol Myers is just the latest in a series of high-profile pharma companies moving in their own direction as the Biden administration’s Health Resources and Services Administration struggles to rein in the drug discount program for the neediest Americans.

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Joaquin Duato stepped away from the sideline and directly into the spotlight on Tuesday, delivering his first quarterly review for J&J as its newly-tapped CEO after an 11-year run in senior posts. And he had some mixed financial news to deliver today while laying claim to a string of blockbuster drugs in the making and outlining an appetite for small and medium-sized M&A deals.

Duato also didn’t exactly shun large buyouts when asked about the future of the company’s medtech business — where they look to be in either the top or number 2 position in every segment they’re in — even though the bar for getting those deals done is so much higher.

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Amgen's Twitter campaign #DearAsthma inspired thousands of people to express struggles and frustrations with the disease

Am­gen’s #Dear­Asth­ma spon­sored tweet lands big on game day, spark­ing thou­sands to re­spond

Amgen wanted to know how people with asthma really felt about daily life with the disease. So it bought a promoted tweet on Twitter noting the not-so-simple realities of life with asthma and ended the post with a #DearAsthma hashtag, a megaphone emoji and a re-tweet button.

That was just over one week ago and the responses haven’t stopped. More than 7,000 posts so far on Twitter replied to #DearAsthma to detail struggles of daily life, expressing humor, frustration and sometimes anger. More than a few f-bombs have been typed or gif-ed in reply to communicate just how much many people “hate” the disease.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying so hard to politicize the FDA and demonize the federal government that he entered into an alternate universe on Monday evening in describing a recent FDA action to restrict the use of two monoclonal antibody, or mAb, treatments for Covid-19 that don’t work against Omicron.

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Bob Seibert sat silent across from his daughter at their favorite Spanish restaurant near his home in Charleston County, SC, their paella growing cold as he read through all the places in his body doctors found tumors.

He had texted his wife, a pediatric intensive care nurse, when he got the alert that his online chart was ready. Although he saw immediately it was bad, many of the terms — peritoneal, right iliac — were inscrutable. But she was five hours downstate, at a loud group dinner the night before another daughter’s cheer competition.

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Pfiz­er, Bris­tol My­ers dom­i­nate top 10 pre­dic­tions for the best-sell­ing drugs of 2022

The annual exercise where analysts try and predict which drugs will become blockbusters and make the most money tends to highlight the biggest trends in biopharma R&D. 2022 is no exception.

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