Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Biogen Idec

In a filing with the SEC yesterday, Carl Icahn and associated entities said that they've increased their stake in the biopharm company Biogen Idec from 4.3% to 6%.

Biogen, a Cambridge, Mass. based concern, (NASD: BIIB) has a market value of close to $15 billion, and employs more than 4,000 people.

Two months ago, Icahn tried to get three nominees on the Biogen board, and as regular readers of this blog know, they were defeated.

But Icahn is nothing if not persistent, and that he has responded to defeat not by liquidating his stake but by increasing it is characteristic.

There is also the little matter of the price chart. The price of a share of BIIB was above $57 when Icahn's slate lost that election. It's below $51 now. What has changed?

This has changed: there have been two occurrences of a fatal brain disease, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), among patients receiving a Biogen producr, Tysabri. Tysabri has been linked with PML before, and these new occurrences could spook doctors into keeping their patients off the stuff.

If that happens, it could be a misfortune all around. Tysabri is reportedly very effective in improving the quality of life of people with both multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease which is why it was allowed back on to the market despite a previous round of PML reports in 2005.

Both of the two new Tysabri-taking PML patients were warned that an increased risk of that disease was a side effect of this drug.

Risk/reward. Reward/risk. It isn't just business. It's life. Though one must always hope that the researchers in the field will press on toward improving the terms of such trade-offs.

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