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Marketplace Morning Report

Mass of cancer research put online

Janet Babin May 16, 2008
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KAI RYSSDAL: Later this month cancer doctors and researchers are going to get together for their most important meeting of the year. Thousands of clinical studies are going to be released, which means we’ll all find out about the next drug breakthrough or the next hot new biotech company.

Keeping the wraps on that research can be close to impossible and biotech and big pharmaceutical stocks typically go wild as the information leaks out. So this year researchers are trying something new. Late last night abstracts from more than 4,000 cancer studies were posted online. And you can bet they were burning the midnight oil on Wall Street.

Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio.


JANET BABIN: A lot of biotech analysts will sleep well tonight. Many, like Eric Snyder with Mehta Partners, pulled all-nighters Thursday:

Eric Snyder: Well, I had the luxury of taking the work from home so I was on my laptop on my couch.

Snyder likes ImClone’s lung cancer drug, and has high hopes for biotech startup Immunogen.

It used to be that the American Society of Clinical Oncology or ASCO, would mail the abstracts to members ahead of its annual meeting. But soon after, pharmaceutical stocks would start bouncing. Last year it was Genentech and Onyx.

There was a disclaimer on the documents. It said people couldn’t use the information to buy and sell securities, but analyst Jay Markowitz at T. Rowe Price says it didn’t do much good.

Jay Markowitz: It’s just very difficult to control the actions of 25,000 people, particularly with just a piece of paper that is supposed to determine their behavior.

Markowitz says last night’s document dump levels the playing field.

But Duke University professor Kevin Schulman points out the advance papers only give partial data and results. Scientists present the total picture at the actual meeting.

He says ASCO should only release the studies to people at the event, not ahead of time to analysts on the hunt for sales pitches:

Kevin Schulman: In terms of my mother’s retirement account, I wouldn’t want trades to be made on the basis of incomplete information. That leads to speculation which is not in anyone’s interest.

Or maybe anyone’s best interest.

In Durham, N.C., I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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