If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to say you already know Dendreon (DNDN) has turned into a train wreck of late. Its flagship (and only) drug Provenge — a therapy for prostate cancer — slowly but surely became a big disappointment, and that implosion has been reflected in the stock’s price.
Luckily, there are a handful of lessons that wise investors may want to take away from this rags-to-riches-to-rags saga.
On the off chance you’re not familiar with the stock, though, here’s a quick recap. Dendreon shares plunged 26% on Friday after the company unveiled what can only be categorized as a horrible second quarter. Rather than the anticipated loss of 42 cents, the company lost 45 cents per share. Sales fell 8% to $73.3 million.
While not good, those numbers could have been worse. And they certainly don’t explain a double-digit plunge in the stock’s price. So what torpedoed DNDN last Friday?
More than anything, it was the forecast that Provenge sales are no longer expected to grow this year. For a drug that was excessively-ballyhooed leading up to its approval and that has only been on the market for three years, it’s way too soon to start seeing sales weakness.
See, Provenge isn’t “just another cancer therapy.” It was the first approved cancer treatment that was a true cancer vaccine. Since then, a handful of other cancer vaccines have hit the market, but as they say, the first one tends to be the most memorable.
It also ignited plenty of optimism — perhaps too much optimism. Take a look at some of the now-wild predictions that were made regarding the treatment, which is expected to hold steady with $321 million in sales.
- “The company now forecasts up to $400 million in sales next year. Some analysts project the sales will ultimately exceed $1 billion a year, making the product a true blockbuster.” -Minyanville, 11/4/10
- “Should Provenge prove to be as successful as many in the biotech industry think it will be, peak sales of $2.5 billion is possible. This is partly because competition is likely to be minimal since barriers to entry are very high due to the long and arduous developmental cycle a similar product must endure to reach the market.” -Value Line, 12/11/2010
You get the idea. The bar was set pretty high for the drug, not just in terms of revenue, but also in terms of how long the drug would be able to defend its title as the “go-to” name in prostate cancer. Instead, Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ) Zytiga is looking outstanding as a prostate cancer treatment, and Medivation’s (MDVN) Xtandi (phase 3) holds enormous promise as a prostate cancer therapy.
And expectations aside, there were two other underlying problems with Provenge that caused those disappointing sales: (1) it’s ridiculously expensive, and (2) when it’s all said and done [and bear in mind a cancer patient may not see things from the same perspective], the drug only extended a patient’s life by a little more than four months, on average.
In other words, Dendreon isn’t nearly as bullet-proof or well-positioned as first touted.
As ugly as the reality is, Dendreon isn’t dead in the water and the stock isn’t something you should necessarily steer clear of now, for a couple of reasons. In no certain order:
- The stock’s 90%+ drubbing since early 2011 has pretty much “right-sized” the company relative to Provenge’s trailing and potential revenue. The company’s current market cap is $531 million, which is in-line with the market norm for company’s generating $200 million in annual sales. While sales may shrink this year, the fact that Provenge is supported by insurers suggests at least some revenue is there for the taking.
- Dendreon has other drugs in the pipeline — three in all. It’s also aiming to add to the number of indications Provenge is approved to treat. Each of these developments could add significant revenue. Not all the take-aways are company specific, however. A couple of broad investing lessons are also packed into this story.
- Just like you would never bet your entire portfolio on one stock, investors can’t afford to be blind about the risks of owning a company with only one marketable product. That’s especially true when that product is a drug as hyped up as much as Provenge was then.
- Riding out a habitual loser is the cardinal sin of trading. DNDN gave shareholders plenty of warning of catastrophic losses, and plenty of chances to bail out at a loss that was much smaller than 90%. Granted, the one day move from 2011’s peak around $40 to $13 was a big, impossible-to-evade whack. The deterioration from there to the current price of $3.37, however, took two more years. Yet some stuck with it the whole time.
Neither of those last two lessons are new ideas … but both are too easy to forget in the heat of the moment.
In the meantime, given how the stock’s been completely shattered, now may be a decent time to go bargain shopping. Just don’t get married to it.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.