Good maaaaaawning Stuart Roberts in Sydney,
Let me start this email by asking you, Prima BioMed, a question. Are you optimistic about the state of the world at the moment, or pessimistic? Me, I’m pessimistic, indeed, I’ve been particularly pessimistic ever since I watched your stock rally on the basis of yesterday’s sensationalist drivel. I couldn’t even give proper attention to popcorn and late-night television re-runs, I was too busy watching NASDAQ.
Stuart, I love your missives, your friendly little fireside chats that end up on trading platforms (I have put a copy below of your most recent masterpiece from last Friday, to save non-shareholder readers from having to dig around on HotCopper). Oh, sure, I know they are supposed to be informal shareholder communications, but obviously they are so vastly generalised that they couldn’t possibly be considered anything other than an analyst commentary about the state of global markets, regenerative medicine and immuno-oncology. Right?
You used to do that for a living, didn’t you?
I know, I know, old habits die hard. I still occasionally eat my boogies too…
By the way, before I continue, is your mate “Adam”, Adam Clayton from U2? I figure he must be, because not many people are important or famous enough to go by the first name of “Adam”, especially when name-dropped. Except maybe the bloke that ended up getting naked in the garden with Eve (it wasn’t him, was it??? I mean, if it was, no wonder the punters think you talk to God…). If so, next time you get a random congratulatory call from Adam, can you ask for an autographed pic of him and Mariana?
Also, before I continue, I just thought I would briefly pick up on one of the threads in your friendly little email below, namely the comment , “For one thing, CAR-T therapies are likely to be very expensive once they get to the market because they are individually tailored (or ‘autologous’, as we like to say)”. Yes “you” (the “Royal You”) do like to say, and in fact that is what the company said for many years when it told the market that they needed to get behind its CVac autologous therapy. Should we take it on good faith then, that this particular piece of Prima history has been finally written-over?
The problem is, Stu’, between your informal chats last Friday (mostly bollocks, but pleasingly warm and erudite, a bit like having a bubble bath with Stephen Fry and a bottle of Louis XIII Grande Champagne Très Vieille Age Inconnu) and the rubbish you (as Head of IR, that’s not a “Royal You”, that’s just a “you”) pushed out yesterday, your stock is doing rather well. US trading overnight had a bit of a pump-and-dump feel about it, though more pump than dump, and it is going to be interesting to see what happens today on the ASX, but I am willing to guess that it wont be too wild ‘n woolly.
Nobody, including me by the way, wants Prima to fail at this stage.
Unfortunately, you’ve got an AGM coming up where you are going to be asking shareholders to sign off on a “not fair” deal (that’s an accounting term that was used by KPMG in the valuation analysis in your annual report, though its layman’s interpretation is still fairly relevant here) for $15m in financing from Ridgeback. By the way, providing that Ridgeback behaves like a proper gentleman for your future capital expansion plans rather than the typically flighty hedge fund, you should always take quality money off the table, with valuation as somewhat of a secondary consideration within limits.
But perhaps not at 2-odd cents (ignoring the impact of warrants, cashless or otherwise) given where your stock is tracking?
Perhaps not even at 5c per your SPP last night, which seemed like kind of an odd manoeuvre on the back end of a massive stock pimping exercise?
Stu’, I’m sure we’ll read a few more little “State of the Union” communiques between now and the end of July, but I just thought I would make the friendly suggestion that perhaps keeping your trap shut for a little while might help. It might also help, as a company, if the management team could demonstrate to the markets that it had a cohesive strategy around its financing plans. I have to honestly question whether the phone lines are up between Berlin and Sydney when I see communications like the one that went out yesterday, because it was a non price sensitive announcement of non-binding scientific advice and you didn’t even have to release it to the market when you did. As a company (paying for the scientific advisory services of EMA) you have plenty of control over the process of documentation, close-out, minutes review, etc. from your little EMA jaw-jaw. So even if you DID (hypothetically) want to get that tasteless announcement out, it could have easily waited until after the AGM without getting anyone hot and bothered about timely disclosure issues, or too much worry about business ethics.
I’m also going to go into radio silence about PRR now… for a little while.
My next communication to shareholders will be on the 30th of July. At that point it will make sense to review the performance of the stock price in the preceding weeks, whether Prima had the integrity to improve the quality and accuracy of its public communication, and whether there is still a financing argument for the Ridgeback deal as it currently stands. In the meanwhile, I think it would make sense for the Prima team, board and management, to actually get together in a room (big ask, I know), look at each other in the eyes, and ask yourself very carefully whether you have the sophistication to actually pull off this AGM. I pretty much doubt it.
Enjoy the remainder of your week,
3rd July, 2015
Hello from Stuart Roberts in Sydney,
Let me start this email by asking you Prima BioMed shareholders a question – are you optimistic about the state of the world at the moment, or pessimistic? If you have been watching the evening news this week you are likely to be a little bit pessimistic because a formerly prosperous European country has just defaulted on its sovereign debt the way dirt-poor Latin American countries used to do in the 1980s, and there are fears that the result will be some kind of global financial contagion.
Me, I’m optimistic. Indeed, I’ve been particularly optimistic ever since my biotech investor friend Adam called up on Tuesday afternoon to say ‘Congratulations, mate’. After a moment’s hesitation just to check I hadn’t forgotten that it was my wedding anniversary, I said ‘Congratulations for what?’ and Adam replied ‘Celgene and Juno…check it out’ before hanging up. That was how I learned that Celgene, the world’s 26th largest pharma company, with 2014 revenues from prescription drugs of US$7.5bn and an annual R&D budget of US$1.8bn, was sinking a billion US dollars into a collaboration with Juno Therapeutics (Nasdaq: JUNO), a Seattle-based cancer immunotherapy company pioneer.
That’s right, Billion with a B.
Celgene is putting US$150m into programs that the two companies will be working on, and it’s buying US$850m worth of Juno stock for a roughly 10% stake in the company. Juno is currently capitalised on Nasdaq at US$4.9bn. Why such a hefty investment? I mentioned last week that one of the things that have made people excited about cancer immunotherapy was ‘… stories of kilograms of tumour disappearing from the bodies of patients, as has been reported with the new CAR-T therapies’. Juno is one of the relatively new companies working in the CAR-T space. CAR stands for ‘Chimeric Antigen Receptor’ and the T bit refers to ‘T cells’. A Chimeric Antigen Receptor is an antibody-derived targeting domain fused with a T-cell signalling domain. When you express one of these CARs on a T cell, that T cell has exquisite antigen specificity. What that lets you do is drum up, inside the body of the cancer patient, is a huge amount of cancer-killing T cells, to be sent more or less where they need to go, to the point where, in some cases, kilograms of tumour are just disappearing. Celgene, renowned as a highly forward thinking pharma company – these were the guys who rehabilitated thalidomide as a cancer drug some years ago – reckons there is a massive market opportunity here and has placed its chips accordingly.
So why was my friend Adam congratulating Prima BioMed on a deal a totally different company has just done? Because when money of this magnitude is moving into the new cancer immunotherapies from an established company with some pharmaceutical street cred, companies like ours are going to be in the spotlight. In addition, we at Prima probably have a few advantages over Juno. For one thing, CAR-T therapies are likely to be very expensive once they get to the market because they are individually tailored (or ‘autologous’, as we like to say). Our IMP321 soluble LAG-3 product is, by contrast, an off-the-shelf product (‘allogeneic’) that is easy and inexpensive to make. For another, CAR-T isn’t without risks to offset some of the benefits – if the patient gets too much of a ‘cytokine storm’ from the therapy, the result can be inflammation that is potentially life threatening. Consequently patient selection strategies are likely to be something companies like Juno have very much at the top of mind. You can check out the Celegene /Juno press release and ponder its implications for similar companies like Prima BioMed by visitinghttp://ir.celgene.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=919929.
For Prima the big news of the week was the mailing of the Notice for an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of shareholders that will happen in Sydney on Friday 31 July. As you will know, shareholder approval is required for the Ridgeback A$15m funding which we announced on 14 May. At the 31 July EGM resolutions related to that transaction will be put before shareholders. The meeting will also be a great chance for shareholders to catch up with our directors and senior management, including our CEO Marc Voigt, and get an update on our progress in these exciting times for cancer immunotherapy. I encourage you to read over the documents we mailed – the Independent Experts Report makes an especially riveting read – as well as make plans to come to the EGM. I look forward to seeing you there. Have a good weekend Stuart