Prima Files a Patent

Prima has had an amazing couple of couple of weeks.

A stratospheric stock adjustment that seems to have stuck (nice!). Some good visibility, no doubt, around ASCO time which is great. There remains an odd, slightly contrived echo of jubilation that CVac is an exciting outcome (I’ve already addressed this so I am not going to repeat myself) but that’s ok. Prima certainly captured major news headlines alongside big name companies that were also up to their eyeballs in clinical data announcements and deal-making.

It’s a super-exciting time of the year, for sure…

But just when you thought that Prima was moving out of the spotty teenager phase and possibly into the vibrancy of adulthood, to perhaps become an ASX/NASDAQ company to be respected and admired for its tenacity and gritty commitment to strategic reform, the unthinkable happens. Yep, last Friday (Australia time) in true bottom-feeder Novogen-esq style, Prima announced that they had filed a patent.

You can’t imagine how ridiculous the rest of the world views this practice. Over whiskey #8 I have had buddies in the US investment banking industry ridicule me incessantly about how “you Aussies sure love to talk about your patent filings.” I mean it is one thing to announce a major market-moving event, like settlement of patent litigation (for example, like Juno did about a month ago). That’s kind of a big deal, and news that changes the momentum of an entire industry. But to make an incredible, forward-looking statement about the value of a patent filing (i.e. paperwork) is ridiculous and misleading and frankly just shows what a bunch of wankers many of our biotech companies really are.

There are a few snippets of this ASX/press release that I find particularly entertaining:

[Prima] a leading immuno-oncology company, today announced that it has made substantial progress with its lead product, IMP321.

Well, aside from the fact that “leading” is a bit of a stretch given the phenomenal news flow from ASCO this year and multiple commercial-stage programs in the immuno-oncology space, it’s hard to classify a provisional application patent as “substantial progress.”

With a decent IP firm behind you, you can just about write an application patent sitting on the toilet. Not much toil(et) there… (pardon the pun)

Prima advises that it has filed for patent protection over the use of IMP321 in conjunction with checkpoint inhibitor molecules, which the company believes gives IMP321 significant  clinical and commercial advantages.

Now let’s start by looking at the date of this press release : 29th of May. 1st day of ASCO.

Let’s also look at the day of the week? Friday. Hmmm…

Truthfully, nobody releases good or important news on a Friday, any self-respecting PR firm or investor relations person will tell you that. Also, nobody releases news-breaking information on day one of the major oncology conference for the year either because it gets swamped out by the “real” news. So really, the purpose of this announcement was a neophyte attempt to create some ASCO media flow and nothing more. And that’s fine, by the way. That’s what companies do around major conferences (though usually with a bit more substance and class) and it is obvious from the content of this press release, that this is the principal objective.

The smaller problem is that we have known since at least February or March of this year that Prima thinks LAG-3 targeting agents combined with checkpoint inhibitors is a good idea. Even Stuart couldn’t help himself in talking about the “synergies” between LAG-3 and checkpoint inhibitors in his little informal chit-chats on HotCopper. That, by the way, is part of the problem with those sort of casual communications with shareholders. So either the patent was filed a while back (in which case, a truly contrived press release in terms of timing) or the patent substance has essentially already been disclosed… er… by Prima.

The bigger problem is that since at least the 25th of September 2013, we have known about the interest in combining LAG-3 targeting agents with PD-1 / L1 targeting agents (i.e checkpoint inhibitors). In fact, I remember attending a workshop on cancer immunology at Harvard in 2012 and Merck and BMS scientists were already talking about the realities of combination therapies to recruit and activate T-cells. Even at that time, LAG-3/PD-1 combo therapies were already on the menu (alongside a bunch of other combination immuno-oncology targets).

One of the fundamental questions that the patent office asks is whether “one skilled in the art” would have anticipated the invention under application. The plain fact of the matter is that pretty much no matter what the claims, no matter what the reduction to practice, unless there is something really weird and unexpected (the official term is “non-obvious”) in the Prima patent application there is essentially no grounds for new intellectual property capture here. Either on the basis of 3rd party research or Prima’s own formal (and informal) disclosures.

In other words, this is probably just bullshit.

Prima advises that it has filed a provisional patent application over the use of IMP321 in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors. This breakthrough science not only bodes well for future clinical work on IMP321; it also offers commercial upside given the widespread expectation that new drugs working through various immune checkpoints will become blockbusters. In addition, this work has allowed Prima to further build on the patent estate protecting IMP321, with patent exclusivity for the product now potentially running to 2035 or beyond if granted and extended.

Wow! No forward-looking statements there…

We are not even talking about granting of IP rights, but also possibly extension  of commercial scope for a drug franchise. Classy…

So, not to rehash my earlier comments, but there is nothing breakthrough about combining LAG-3 targeting agents with checkpoint inhibitors, we’ve known about the idea for at least 3 years and probably longer (people underestimate big-pharma). In addition, and I am sorry to say this, but both Obdivo (BMS) and Keytruda (Merck) are blockbuster drugs. This is not even speculation, and Prima is so far behind the curve it is not even funny.

How dare you, Prima, based on paperwork filed to the patent office that probably will not have human eyes scientifically review it for at least 12 months, presume to purport a commercially significant event for the company on the basis of a patent filing. Moreover, to strongly imply to investors that this event is going to extend the commercial lifespan of the market value of your drug is not only shameless propaganda but irresponsible investor communication.

To conclude, I “downgrade” my expectations of you and I retract any earlier positive statements I made about the future of the company. Not that anyone really cares about my opinion, but if they did I would tell them Prima Biomed hasn’t learned a damned thing about how to be a grown-up oncology company. Prima, you ruin your own prospects by this kind of behavior… no matter how good your new drug might turn out to be. You’re just another crass ASX-listed company that is so dumb that it attributes the same significance to a major program announcement (that tripled your stock price) to a commercially irrelevant press release about a provisional patent filing (during ASCO no less, it’s just embarrassing).

I have never had much expectation of the management team (except Sharron Gargosky, who is a true keeper, even if she lives in Portland, Oregon), but at least I would have thought that the Board of Directors had learned a few hard lessons by now. Even the current “CEO” (formally CFO) should know that there is no valuation equation on the planet that boosts enterprise value for a provisional patent application.

Well, apparently not.


Feature image courtesy of : US Patent #6,293,874. It was granted. So maybe there is hope for Prima yet.

One thought on “Prima Files a Patent

  1. Pingback: Investor Relations and ASX Biosciences : Part of the Problem | The Long Tail

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