Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Investing in Lymphoma

The Investing website The Motley Fool has been publishing a series on investing in companies that make treatments for cancer. One of them, published, last week, focuses onNon-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, including Follicular Lymphoma, and is called "Tackling Cancer: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma's Biggest Current & Upcoming Players." NHL is the seventh article in the series, it being the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. (The other six, in case you were wondering, are prostate, breast, lung, colorectal, melanoma, and bladder.)

It's an interesting piece, from an interesting perspective. A smart investor will want to back winners, and this is one way to think about which companies (and thus which treatments) are currently, and which are likely to be, successful.

First of all, I appreciate the description of NHL. Pretty basic, but it gets the facts right, including the fact that there are a whole bunch of different NHLs.The description of Rituxan, however, has a serious warning: "Rituxan can lead to very serious side effects." Since when? The whole reason Rituxan has been successful is that it has few side effects, especially when compared to traditional chemo.

Still, I like that the first choice for an investment is Roche and Biogen, makers of Rituxan. Seems pretty smart. It's a treatment that has changed Lymphoma survival for the better. There's a slight danger of buying high (since there are a whole bunch of monoclonal antibodies in development that could replace Rituxan, and Rituxan's patent is expiring soon). On the other hand, a whole bunch have already been tried, and they haven't proven to be much more effective than Rituxan, so who knows?

I love that the article also recommends Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (maker of Zevalin) and GlaxoSmithKlein, maker of Bexxar.  I'm a huge fan of RIT (RadioImmunoTherapy), and I wish it was used more. But it isn't. If I were giving investing advice, I'd rate these two a HOLD, but maybe some love from Wall Street will get them noticed and more people will use them.

(There's a long history of why oncologists don't recommend Zevalin more than they do, which I have written about before, though not for a while. Zevalin is actually back in the news. I'm working on a post -- maybe I'll revisit that history then. Look for it later this week.)

Finally, they recommend a couple of other companies, one of which makes a treatment for Hodgkin's, not NHL, and the other for a less common type of T-cell lymphoma. Sorry, I don't know much about either. Follicular Lymphoma is my focus.

Maybe even more interesting are the pipeline treatments that this writer is excited about: Ibrutinib, Epratuzumab, and Obinutuzumab (GA101), all of which are in trials for Follicular Lymphoma, as well as other types of NHL. These, to me, seem very promising. I won't get into why; I've written about all of them recently.

One final note. I have mixed feelings on an article like this. I don't really like the idea that my cancer is a vehicle for someone making money.

(Which isn't to say I am anti-capitalist. Far from it. I know the difference between a BUY and HOLD, for one thing. Also, I once bought $100 of stock in Ascent Entertainment Group, because they were rumored to be buying the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, and I wanted to be able to say that I owned 1/14,000,000th of a pro sports team. When they sold to Liberty Media, I made a handsome profit of $48.18, thank you very much.)

So, clearly, I'm not anti-capitalist. It just seems....distasteful.

On the other hand, if more investing means more money for research, I'm all for it.

So go nuts, Wall Street. Listen to what the Fool is saying.

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