Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Great Investment Opportunity? - Biotechnology Company Run by an Ex-Convict

A sad commentary on the current morality of the health care "business," as provided by the New York Times. Sam Waksal is back in the biotechnology business:
Mr. Waksal says his new venture, Kadmon Pharmaceuticals, will be 'a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company from the get-go,' replete with everything, including its own research and products on the market or in clinical trials that it acquires from others.

'You’ll see a company that next year will be doing significant revenues in a growth area, with earnings, probably five Phase 3 programs and a couple of Phase 2 products,' Mr. Waksal said Sunday in a telephone interview. Phase 3 and Phase 2 are the late and middle stages, respectively, of clinical trials.

Several of Mr. Waksal’s former colleagues from ImClone have joined him at Kadmon, a name from kabbalah, the Jewish mystical movement. He even looked into leasing the Lower Manhattan headquarters ImClone is vacating.

Kadmon, which will focus on cancer, infections and autoimmune diseases, has started to make deals. On Monday it is expected to announce it has licensed an experimental hepatitis C drug from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, a person close to the transaction said. That follows the disclosure last week that it had acquired Three Rivers Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania company specializing in hepatitis drugs.

Kadmon circulated a private placement memorandum in February to raise $50 million to $175 million. As of July, it had raised $10.8 million from 26 investors, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

But David Pitts, a spokesman for Kadmon, said that other debt and equity offerings had raised more than $200 million, with the biggest investor being SBI Holdings of Japan.

Is there a catch? It might be Mr Waksal's record, criminal record. Mr Waksal's previous company was ImClone:
That started to come undone in December 2001, when Mr. Waksal got word that the Food and Drug Administration was not going to approve Erbitux. Before the company announced the news, Mr. Waksal alerted relatives to sell their ImClone stock and tried to sell some of his. Martha Stewart sold her ImClone shares and was given a five-month prison sentence and five months of home confinement for lying to federal investigators about it.

Mr. Waksal pleaded guilty to securities fraud, bank fraud, perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He is prohibited by a settlement with the S.E.C. from serving as an officer or director in a publicly traded company.

Presumably, Kadmon is not publicly traded, so the SEC ban does not apply to his leadership of that company. Yet despite the ban and his criminal record, investors seem to be ready to throw money at him. 
Maybe it has more to do with emotion than reason, much less morality,
One investor in Kadmon, who also sits on its board, said Mr. Waksal’s energy and his acumen in spotting promising drugs far outweigh his past problems.

'He is irrepressible,' said this investor, who spoke on the condition that she not be named because her company has a policy against being quoted in the media. 'I don’t think what happened to Sam in the past is going to have a negative effect on my investment in this business.'  [Being convicted of 'securities fraud, bank fraud, perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy' is a good background for a company CEO? - Ed]

prospective investors say his trademark exuberance and penchant for hyperbole remains.

'He hadn’t changed,' said a prospective investor who met with Mr. Waksal and spoke on the condition of anonymity to retain relations with him. 'He was spinning big stories about big money, big deals'

Another prospective investor said Mr. Waksal had told him that Carl C. Icahn, the billionaire who is a friend of Mr. Waksal and had invested in ImClone, had committed $30 million to Kadmon. Marc Weitzen, a lawyer for the investor, said Mr. Icahn had evaluated Kadmon but 'decided to pass.'  [It sounds like Mr Waksal has not developed any new affinity for the truth - Ed.]

The private placement memorandum circulated in February said Kadmon had 'a simple yet revolutionary plan for creating the pre-eminent 21st century biopharmaceutical company.'
To make it even more explicit:
Mr. Waksal, who earned a doctorate in immunology, is charming to the point of being seductive. He was a fixture in New York social circles, befriending celebrities and dating many women, including Alexis Stewart, daughter of his friend Martha Stewart. He lived in a spacious SoHo loft with millions of dollars in art, where he hosted extravagant parties and intellectual salons attended by leading lights in literature, art and science.

In my humble opinion, an investor who throws money at an ex-con, apparently because he seems exuberant, irrepressible, even seductive, needs a brain transplant.  (But maybe some investors should read Snakes in Suits, see post here.)

But this blog is not about giving advice to investors. If Mr Waksal invested in basically harmless products that had nothing to do with patients' health and safety, the foolishness of investment decisions about his company would have nothing to do with me.

However, Mr Waksal is proposing to develop drugs to be given to patients:
In its first big deal, Kadmon announced last Monday that it had acquired privately held Three Rivers for more than $100 million.

Three Rivers, whose main products are drugs for hepatitis C, is meant to be the commercial base of Kadmon, its revenues helping to defray the cost of developing new drugs.

The deal, an investor familiar with the structure said, is highly leveraged, to the extent that Three Rivers’ earnings might not be sufficient to cover the debt. But Mr. Waksal is betting that sales will soar because new pills being developed by other companies will make treatment more effective, enticing more people with hepatitis C to be treated.

'The hep C market is going to undergo a real sea change next year,' Mr. Waksal said. Three Rivers has a proprietary form of the drug ribavirin that requires two pills a day, instead of the standard six to eight. Even with new drugs coming, ribavirin will remain a mainstay of treatment.

In fact, Mr. Waksal is increasing that bet. On Monday, Kadmon is expected to announce that it has obtained exclusive worldwide rights to taribavirin, a form of ribavirin that may have fewer side effects. Kadmon is paying $5 million initially, with other payments possible later, to Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which has been testing the drug in clinical trials, according to the person close the transaction. Valeant will pay $7.5 million for rights to sell Kadmon’s ribavirin in Eastern Europe.

Kadmon has bought a tiny company started by Princeton professors that has a way to measure cell metabolism. Influencing a cell’s use of nutrients is emerging as a novel way to treat cancer and infectious diseases.

So, we are not talking about merely foolish investment decisions, but amoral ones. The amorality of this brave new business world becomes relevant.
For many investors, 'there are few judgments beyond whether you made me money,' said Samuel D. Isaly, managing partner at OrbiMed Advisors, a big investor in biotech companies that was not asked to invest in Kadmon. 'Sam Waksal made a lot of people a lot of money with ImClone.'

There, in a nutshell seems to be the problem with running health care organizations not just in a business-like manner, but as businesses, businesses in a completely laissez faire environment, businesses in a new world run by new robber barons.

Would you trust a company run by an ex-convict to product safe, effective, and unadulterated drugs? (After all, some very respected companies run by people who are certainly not ex-cons have proven to be unable to keep all of their products pure and unadulterated.)

This case vividly illustrates the need for assuring that the leaders of all health care organizations, including but not limited to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, have some knowledge of the health care context, some sympathy for the values of health care professionals, including putting patients' health and welfare first, and are externally accountable. But at a minimum, health care organizations should not be run by former felons. However, in our extremely laissez faire environment, in a country now increasingly dominated by new robber barons, ex-convicts can run biotechnology companies.


Anonymous said...

Take it from this MBA; this is a house of cards. When you know your income will not meet your debt service and you are relying on increase sales of a yet to be marketed product you more than pass on the investment, you strike that person’s name from your phone directory.

Along the same lines the Oct. 30-31 WSJ story Ruling Clears Path for Hospital Deal we have Cerberus Capital buying a group of Catholic nonprofit hospitals in Boston and converting them to for-profit status.

The Nov. 2, WSJ story Qualms Arise Over Outsourcing Of Electronic Medical Records highlights the story of how Indian tech companies are complaining about not receiving US tax supported contracts for the upcoming EMR conversion. They push aside concerns of language, culture and security, claiming it is protectionist to want US companies to use US tax dollars to support US workers.

In both of these cases there is no mention of patient safety or quality improvement. Medicine is treated like any other industry with the ultimate goal of maximizing income. Financial companies and tech companies only see the business opportunities, not the responsibility.

I could not help but think of these two quotes:

To whom much is given, much more will be given.


Stupid is as stupid does.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

But he has mucho inside information to help his buds take advantage of the knowledge while selling recipes.

Anonymous said...


If you believe that I have a bridge I will sell you. What he does have is a line and a promise that people will make money. Like many schemes today people are desperate for an above average return.

If he is using insider or proprietary information he can go to jail. Wait, he has already done that.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's something Roy.