SEC ac­cus­es biotech bil­lion­aire Phillip Frost of join­ing a 'pump-and-dump' scheme that net­ted $27M

Over the years Phillip Frost has ac­quired quite a rep­u­ta­tion in biotech. He chaired Te­va, man­ages Op­ko Health — and now has to con­tend with ac­cu­sa­tions from the SEC that he ac­tive­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in a scheme to pump up biotech share prices in or­der to reap mil­lions in wind­fall prof­its ahead of their col­lapse.

Ac­cord­ing to the SEC, Bar­ry Honig led an ef­fort to pump up the share prices of three com­pa­nies — iden­ti­fied by the Wall Street Jour­nal as Bio­Zone Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, MGT Cap­i­tal In­vest­ments and Mab­Vax — pay­ing for ar­ti­cles in Seek­ing Al­pha that tout­ed their po­ten­tial. Frost, says the SEC, par­tic­i­pat­ed in two out of the three pump-and-dumps.

Op­ko’s shares $OPK cratered on the news, drop­ping 18%.

Al­to­geth­er, says the charge, the con­spir­a­cy by Frost, Honig and sev­er­al oth­ers net­ted the group $27 mil­lion, fleec­ing small in­vestors that took the bait set by John H. Ford. Here’s one of the sto­ries they al­leged­ly paid for.

In a state­ment put out fol­low­ing the charges late Fri­day, Op­ko re­spond­ed that Frost could have ex­plained the whole thing if the SEC had both­ered to fol­low the rules and in­form him in ad­vance of the charges that were be­ing shaped against him. The ac­cu­sa­tions, the com­pa­ny added, con­tain “se­ri­ous fac­tu­al in­ac­cu­ra­cies.”

Op­ko and Dr. Frost have al­ways prid­ed them­selves on ad­her­ing to the high­est stan­dards of fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure, and they are con­fi­dent that once a prop­er in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plet­ed and the facts of the case have been ful­ly dis­closed, the mat­ter will be re­solved fa­vor­ably for them.

Frost chaired Te­va from 2010 un­til late 2014, af­ter Te­va had ac­quired his com­pa­ny Ivax for $7.4 bil­lion. That was all part of a dis­tin­guished bio­phar­ma ca­reer that in­cludes chair­ing the de­part­ment of der­ma­tol­ogy at Mount Sinai Med­ical Cen­ter. In ad­di­tion to be­ing on the board of trustees at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mi­a­mi, he’s on the board at Cochrys­tal Phar­ma, for­mer­ly Bio­Zone, one of the com­pa­nies al­leged­ly in­volved in the pump-and-dump.

Once dubbed the War­ren Buf­fett of biotech, a Forbes ar­ti­cle in ear­ly 2017 notes that Frost — with an es­ti­mat­ed for­tune worth $5 bil­lion — has long had a big in­ter­est in a port­fo­lio of stocks that in­cludes a num­ber of volatile mi­cro cap biotechs. He al­so hasn’t hes­i­tat­ed to plug Op­ko’s po­ten­tial.

“What we are build­ing here is a com­pa­ny that will have a half a dozen prod­ucts, each ca­pa­ble of do­ing more than a bil­lion dol­lars in sales and some sev­er­al bil­lion,” he told Forbes. “In the case of hu­man growth hor­mone, where we are part­nered with Pfiz­er, that is a $3.5 bil­lion mar­ket.”

Soon af­ter that sto­ry ap­peared, though, Op­ko had to con­cede that its late-stage study of the hor­mone flopped. Com­pa­ny ex­ecs tried to blame the fail­ure on “out­liers” in­clud­ed in the study.


Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took at 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.

Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.

The top 15 mega-deals in bio­phar­ma: Ab­b­Vie and Bris­tol-My­ers ac­qui­si­tions stir fresh de­bate over what's too big to buy

The debate over what’s too big to buy in biotech is back. A number of top analysts went right after AbbVie’s rationale for the Allergan deal today, just as Bristol-Myers Squibb stirred immediate debate over the worth and wisdom of acquiring Celgene.

To help provide some added context to this discussion, we asked DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar to look over the past decade of major M&A in biopharma to decipher the top 15 plays.

The new numbers, unadjusted for inflation, harken back to the days of the Pfizer-Wyeth buyout and Merck’s decision to absorb Schering-Plough — both triggered in 2009. The heat over those acquisitions made the big pharma mega-deal highly unpopular for most everyone — except Pfizer — as industry leaders swore off almost all but the handy bolt-on acquisition.

Until recently.

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SQZ, Ery­tech kick off $57M cell ther­a­py part­ner­ship; Jean-Paul Kress lands new CEO gig at Mor­phoSys

→ In a mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies meant to make cell ther­a­pies more pow­er­ful, SQZ Biotech is team­ing up with France’s Ery­tech Phar­ma for a col­lab­o­ra­tion, with $57 mil­lion re­served for the first project and $50 mil­lion for each sub­se­quent ap­proval (prod­uct or in­di­ca­tion). Hav­ing ac­cess to Ery­tech’s method of fash­ion­ing ther­a­peu­tics from red blood cells, the Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny said, will am­pli­fy SQZ’s cell en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­low them to de­vleop a new class of im­munomod­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies. Its own tech — so far ap­plied in can­cer but al­so has po­ten­tial in di­a­betes — tem­po­rary dis­rupts the cell mem­brane by squeez­ing the cell, thus cre­at­ing a brief win­dow for tar­get ma­te­ri­als such as anti­gens to en­ter.