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Feuerstein's Heroes and Zeroes of Biotech Investing in 2015

Adam Feuerstein

Editors' Pick: Originally published Dec. 28.

My biotech and pharma superlatives for 2015.

Worst drug approval: Sprout Pharmaceuticals' Addyi

The FDA approved the pink pill which does almost nothing to boost the sex drive of women while placing them at serious risk for severely low blood pressure and fainting. By approving Addyi, the FDA abdicated its responsibility to protect the health and well-being of Americans. Instead, the agency's top officials caved to a fake "grassroots" women's sexual health advocacy campaign ginned up and paid for by Sprout CEO Cindy Whitehead.

Soon after Addyi's approval, Whitehead sold Sprout to Valeant Pharmaceuticals for $1 billion.

Shameful.

Best drug approval: Novartis' Entresto

Heart failure affects millions of people, but groundbreaking therapies to treat the costly disease have been slow to emerge. That changed in July with the approval of Entresto -- the first heart failure drug to demonstrate a mortality benefit compared to current standard treatments.

Most important story: Drug pricing

This was the conversation in 2015. No other issue came close.

Tweet of the year:


Top-performing large-cap stock: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

Worst-performing large-cap stock: Biogen

Biggest disappointment: CAR-T therapies

Juno Therapeutics , Kite Pharma and Novartis -- most closely identified with engineered T-cell cancer therapies -- treaded water for most of 2015, failing to progress beyond inducing complete remissions in certain leukemias and lymphomas. CAR-T therapies are still plagued by relapses, an inability (yet) to demonstrate a benefit in solid tumors and questions about manufacturing and commercial viability.

Best scandal: Valeant Pharmaceuticals

You would have scoffed last January had I told you Philidor was not the name of a hamlet in the Lord of the Rings but it was a rogue, specialty pharmacy which crippled one of Wall Street's darling drug companies.

Most volatile reversal in sentiment: Gene therapy

Investors entered 2015 believing gene therapy could cure every disease. Investors exit the year discouraged by the realization that gene therapy is difficult and failure might be more prevalent than success.

Avalanche Biotechnologies and Celladon blew up. Bluebird Bio hiccuped. Spark Therapeutics prevailed -- but not without lingering doubts.

Top-performing mid-cap stock: Incyte

Worst-performing stock (mid-cap and higher): Puma Biotechnology

Most over-hyped technology: CRISPR

Perhaps in 2016 we'll see fewer thumb-sucking, cheerleading magazine stories published about gene editing technology and more (any?) patients enrolled in gene-editing clinical trials.

Most overused, annoying buzzword: Innovation.

Most inept commercial product launch: Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Auryxia and MannKind's Afrezza (tie)

Rotting unicorn: Theranos

Fiercest unicorn killer: John Carreyrou

Forgotten disease fad of the year: Ebola

Worst IPO: Axovant Sciences , NantKwest , Flex Pharma . (Three-way tie!)

A failed Alzheimer's drug reboot; a vanity project for biotech's billionaire Wizard of Oz; and the Arctic ice cube salesman pitches ginger juice for muscle cramps.

Best IPO: None.

You can always buy the stock cheaper six months later.

Most in need of a decent haircut and a freshly laundered hoodie: Martin Shkreli

Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I'll lay out a plan to take it on. -H https://t.co/9Z0Aw7aI6h

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 21, 2015

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