A struggling local biotech sees hope in a deal with Turing Pharmaceuticals, known for founder Martin Shkreli’s 50-fold price hike on an old but crucial drug. Also: What company do other companies’ CEOs talk about most during earnings season? Amazon.
The pharmaceutical company made notorious last year by its 50-fold price hike for an old but crucial drug — and by heated headlines about its founder, Martin Shkreli — could soon be the largest shareholder in a tiny local biotechnology company that’s struggling to improve its fortunes.
Marina Biotech of Bothell said this past week it has reached a deal to give 53 million of its shares to Turing Pharmaceuticals in exchange for rights to a drug-development program.
Turing was launched in early 2015 by 32-year-old investment manager Shkreli, who resigned in December as its CEO after being indicted on federal charges of securities fraud related to his running of a previous pharmaceutical company and a hedge fund. It’s unclear whether he remains a principal owner at Turing; the company declined to comment.
If the deal goes through, which hinges on Marina raising more money for the drug’s development, Turing “would have the lion’s share” of Marina’s issued stock, says Marina CEO Michael French. The company now has 29 million shares issued.
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On a fully diluted basis, meaning all warrants for stock are exercised, Turing would own about 45 percent, he says.
What Marina gets is rights to a nasally administered version of ketamine, a powerful anesthetic, that’s in development as a treatment for depression, PTSD and what the industry calls “suicidality.”
French says he’s “bringing in a late-stage asset that gives us a window to commercialization,” but acknowledges “it’s a definite shift” in direction for Marina. “We needed to see something that could be transformative for the company, and this is it.”
Marina previously had focused on early-stage development of nucleic- acid-based therapies to treat orphan diseases, but recently has tried to sell that technology.
French says the deal does not amount to a takeover by Turing. “That’s certainly not the intention.”
Asked why Turing would turn the ketamine program over to a cash-strapped little company — even one that promises $95 million in future royalties if the drug succeeds — French says, “It met both of our needs.”
As for Shkreli, says French, “I’ve never met him.”
Turing’s “media department” said it’s too busy to answer questions; presumably it has its hands full with the fallout from congressional investigations. In March, the former top lawyer for Turing testified he and others had told Shkreli the company’s $13.50-to-$750 price hike for an antiparasitic drug called Daraprim “was certainly unjustified.” The company may have reckoned that the potential ketamine treatment might find smoother sailing under a different flag, like Marina’s.
French is optimistic Marina can close the deal with Turing after raising the money needed to fund the ketamine program. He won’t say how much. In announcing the deal, Marina said it sees “a unique opportunity to rapidly move this compound into the U.S. market as early as 2019.”
— Rami Grunbaum: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nadella’s home in Clyde Hill is sold
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella sold his Clyde Hill home last week for $2.77 million, about 20 percent below the original listing price when the residence was put up for sale in January.
The 48-year-old executive and his wife bought the house, which boasts views of the Olympic Mountains and a portion of the Seattle skyline, for $1.3 million in 2000.
The home was first listed for sale in January at $3.5 million. The 4,050-square-foot house, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, was built in 1963.
A Microsoft spokeswoman didn’t comment on the Nadellas’ plans.
The couple bought a house in Bellevue’s Lake Hills neighborhood in 2013 for $422,500, property records show.
— Matt Day: mday@seattletimes
Amazon’s earsmust be burning
What company do corporate chiefs talk about the most when they’re trying to explain to investors why their businesses are doing well or poorly, and where the threat or opportunity comes from?
Of the 30 U.S. companies with the highest annual revenue, the answer, hands down, is Amazon.com.
During the peak of earnings season — a time when executives discuss the state of their companies with Wall Street analysts in often lengthy conference calls — the Seattle tech and retail giant’s name came up more than any other in transcripts collected by S&P Global Market Intelligence, a financial-information service.
Amazon, which ranked 29th in last year’s Fortune 500 list, was mentioned in 92 different conference calls in the two weeks preceding May 4.
That’s far ahead of any other top-30 company in the Fortune 500, including household names such as list leader Wal-Mart (43 calls) and Ford Motor (33 calls).
General Electric, the company that Jack Welch turned into a paragon of modern business? It turned up in 14 calls, including one for its own shareholders meeting.
Apple, after taking out mentions for actual apples and apple-to-apple comparisons, came in second after Amazon, appearing in 79 calls.
Only Google (which is lower in Fortune’s revenue-based list) showed up in more earnings calls than Amazon: 94 in all, after taking out references by JP Morgan and Hugo Boss executives to “Googling” stuff on the Web.
Other tech firms that were outside the top 30 in revenue — Microsoft and Facebook — were also popular.
The lesson? Tech is becoming such a critical part of day-to-day life that its corporate titans are seen by almost everybody as partners, rivals or examples worthy of emulation — sometimes all three.
For no company is that truer than for Amazon, which has its fingers in seemingly every pie, from cloud computing to retail, from entertainment to logistics and transportation (it not only has bought a fleet of trucks, but it is leasing its own cargo air force).
The company, despite criticism for what some employees say is a dog-eat-dog corporate culture, is riding a high after reporting surprisingly good first-quarter profit and revenue. Its stock is near its all-time high, putting it among the rare companies worth more than $300 billion.
Even Warren Buffett, seen by many as the elder statesman of American capitalism, had plenty to say — mostly praise — about Amazon and its founder. Jeff Bezos, at Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting April 30.
The billionaire was asked by an analyst how the shift from catalogs to online search, a phenomenon driven partly by Amazon, is affecting his conglomerate’s business interests.
“What they’ve accomplished in a fairly short period of time and continued to accomplish is remarkable, the number of satisfied customers they have developed,” Buffett said, according to a transcript. “We don’t look at that as something where we’re going to try to beat them at their own game. They’re better than we at that. And so Charlie (Munger, Buffett’s right-hand man) and I are not going to out-Bezos Bezos by a long shot.”
— Ángel González: email@example.com