CEOs turn out in NY to talk up new deals for a new year

NEW YORK - Biotech CEOs go to BIO's annual CEO & Investor confab at the Waldorf-Astoria to burnish the reputations of their companies in the heart of the world's financial center. And a lineup of CEOs with near-term commercial opportunities was on hand to present a confident case for their looming successes.

Deal watch: For Acorda Therapeutics CEO Ron Cohen, the meeting presented a chance to talk up the company's prospects following the recent approval of Ampyra, a new therapy that helps a large segment of MS patients to walk better. Acorda has recently swelled to some 240 employees as the developer ramps up its sales and marketing force. And it's rapidly adding more employees to its Hawthorne, NY complex--"We are busting at the seams," he tells FierceBiotech with a satisfied smile--as Acorda pursues the dream of building a stand-alone development and marketing biotech specializing in nervous system disorders. Acorda's next drug prospects are slated to head into clinical trials, but Cohen is scouting for a Phase II or possibly even a Phase III program that it can in-license to fill the development gap.

Partnership prospect: Orexigen CEO Michael Narachi did the math on how many sales reps it would take to penetrate the market for Contrave, a late-stage weight drug that is one of the most closely-watched therapies in the obesity field. And he made it sound like a relatively small force of some 150 could harvest the low hanging fruit while 500 would go much, much higher on the marketing tree. The number crunching is significant. Orexigen gives every appearance of holding out for a major pact with a lot of big dollars tied to it. Contrave has performed impressively in four late-stage trials and the CEO is clearly focused on a blockbuster market of obese women who frequently suffer from depression. Orexigen could go it alone, Narachi told the crowd that turned out, but it sounded distinctly like a negotiating stance.

Phase III gamble: David Hung, the CEO of Medivation, didn't break a sweat as he enthusiastically pitched into the prospects for Dimebon, currently one of the biggest gambles in biotech. A late-stage study of Dimebon for Alzheimer's will either propel the company's stock to new, commanding heights, or send it into the tank. And with so much riding on the outcome, Hung was happy to review some stellar efficacy data and the clear safety profile it's seen so far. Analysts, though, have been sharply divided over the company's prospects. Hung looked and acted like one of the luckiest, smartest CEOs in biotech. And with a pair of enormous partnerships to bank on, why shouldn't he?

PDUFA looms: Dendreon CEO Mitchell Gold sounded supremely confident of his company's prospects for Provenge. The biotech spent years mounting a second late-stage trial to satisfy the FDA's demand for more data on the prostate cancer therapy. It delivered. And now that the PDUFA date (May 1) is looming, Dendreon and Gold are acting like an approval is in the bag. Dendreon is ready to launch later this year, using its manufacturing facility in New Jersey to produce up to $1 billion worth of Provenge every year, Gold told listeners. And two more facilities under construction in Atlanta and the L.A. area will each be able to produce up to $750 million in product by mid-2011. Dendreon isn't waiting for anything. - John (twitter | email)

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