Friday, 27 November 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Turing took the forbidden fruit

“We are dedicated to helping patients, who often have no effective treatment options, by developing and commercializing innovative treatments”. This is the statement waiting for visitors to the ‘About’ section of Turing Pharmaceuticals website. However, having seen any of the myriad news coverage recently you could be forgiven for not finding this sentiment particularly credible. This week, the “fully integrated” biopharmaceutical Company returned to the world’s headlines, and whilst in the UK it may have been overshadowed by the Autumn Statement, it deserves no less attention.

Turing Pharmaceuticals has been courting controversy since August, when it acquired the exclusive rights to market Daraprim from Impax Laboratories. Contract Pharma reported that this was a strategic effort by Turing to begin fulfilling its promise to combat serious infectious diseases. Prior to the acquisition, Turing had been a one drug shop, having acquired Vecamyl, a hypertension medication, earlier in 2015. However, the acquisition of Daraprim was undoubtedly what brought Turing into the public eye.

Daraprim is a drug that is an antiparasitic medicine used for the treatment of toxoplasmosis and acute malaria. Both toxoplasmosis and malaria prey on those with weakened immune systems, and therefore are likely to infect those suffering from HIV and AIDs. Additionally the drug has a number of “off label” preventative uses, again, for those suffering from HIV. Clearly, Daraprim is an invaluable life line, and significantly improves the quality of life for those suffering from HIV or AIDs by helping protect them from additional debilitating diseases.

Initially, the purchase of Daraprim was positively received in the media. Turing’s Chief Executive, Martin Shkreli, was quoted as saying that the acquisition put the Company on target to bring “novel medication to patients with serious disorders”. Shkreli also stated his intention to invest in the further development of the drug to yield an even better clinical profile, as well as plans to launch educational efforts to raise awareness and improve diagnosis for patients. Shkreli’s intentions appeared, at least on the surface, honourable, it seemed as though his primary interest and that of his Company was the welfare of patients suffering from unquestionably awful diseases. Medical professionals were similarly impressed with Shkreli, noting, “Turing’s commitment to improving treatment for patients with toxoplasmosis is commendable” (Louis M. Weiss, M.D., M.P.H., Professor, Departments of Medicine and Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City). Unfortunately, the positive stride that Weiss and other medical professionals perceived Turing’s actions to represent was not to be.

What came next will surely go down as how not to handle situations when sentiment turns against you, as the New York based start-up destroyed any good will the medical industry or public may have held towards it by immediately hiking the price of its drug by over 5000%. The New York Times noted that the drug originally retailed for $13.50, compared to the $750 per tablet Turing was expecting people to pay. This controversial move would make the drug unavailable to many people and clearly at odds with Turing’s company mantra. In an interview with CNBC, Shkreli was even unapologetic about the decision, arguing that the drug had been priced too low and his Company needed to make a profit, stating that it had previously been like selling an Aston Martin for the cost of a bike. Following the ensuing backlash from both media and medical professionals Turing cowed to public pressure, and pledged to roll back the increase to ensure the drug remained affordable. However, following this week’s announcement, it is clear that this was an empty promise. The Guardian reported this week that Martin Shkreli has declared he will not lower the price of his medication after all.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, and in turn Shkreli’s, actions are perceived as the worst kind of profiteering through incontestable monopoly comparable. However, there is hope for the patients who have had their medication taken away from them, and as Tim Worstall argued in Forbes, “markets work”. In the face of the gross (potential) profit taking by Martin Shkreli, Imprimis Pharmaceuticals announced that it has made an alternative to Daraprim that would cost roughly a dollar a pill, or $99 for a 100-pill supply. The fact remains that, Turing’s monopoly although threatened, may remain if the new drug is proven to be less effective than Daraprim. Also, the irreparable damage that has been done to the reputation of the nascent Turing Pharmaceuticals in both the medical and financial worlds might eventually lead to the Company folding, leaving the world without the sole producer of Daraprim. With this in mind, it seems Shkreli should be asking himself the pertinent question; were the potential profits worth it? Did his workforce deserve the wave of negativity he has foisted upon them?

Reputation management is vital to corporate relationships, and if Turing has plans to acquire further companies or source more investors, it is conceivable that the private equity firm would need to reconsider its public relations strategy. If Shkreli and the Company does not show willingness to change, it is arguable that will burn the bridge of ever taking his Company public, surely the exit he envisaged when he founded it…

This week, Abchaps attended the Gorkana financial debate in aim to discuss the communication challenges in today's financial services market. The panel included Alex Letts CEO of Ffrees, Christina Sandkühler of La Salle Investment and Editor of City AM Christian May.

We also hosted a market lunch, where we discussed general topics such as the Pjizer – Allergan merger and Switzerland’s alternative Bank Schweiz.

We attended a Scottish whisky tasting event at Marriott Harrison’s in anticipation for St Andrew’s Day. We took the opportunity to discuss new appointments at the law firm over a dram or two.

Macquarie Capital appointed Ben Bailey as head of Telecommunications, media, entertainment and technology in Europe. Prior to the appointment, Ben led the internet and digital media investment banking team at Jefferies.

Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management appointed Jane Parry as head of marketing and communications. Parry joined Canaccord Genuity from Duncan Lawrie Private Bank.

Clyde & Co appointed Robert Wilson as partner in its clinical negligence team. Robert joined Clyde & Co from Capsticks.

“Toxoplasmosis” – an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.

Christmas has come, with all the John Lewis baggage that this entails, and therefore this weekend, Tate Modern is holding its own twist on a traditional Christmas Market with all the usual trappings of mulled wine, but set in the grandeur of the turbine hall.

For the second out of office hours, why not use the Tate to Tate service, taking you from Modern to Britain, for the exhibition on Art and Alcohol. Booze has been one of man’s greatest muses since fermentation was discovered. Pride of place is given to George Cruikshank’s ‘Worship of Bacchus’.

Finally, if you fancy emulating the antics of art, why not try the Absinthe Masterclass, taking place at Vinopolis. The green fairy is blamed for Van Gough’s madness, and whilst it’s unlikely to make you cut your ear off, it will probably lead you to a slightly fuzzy Monday.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: From Rags to riches… ‘The Car’ has fallen…

The current slogan for Volkswagen is “Das Auto”, the English translation of which is “The Car”.  This may seem to be a bold tagline, however if anyone could pull it off, it would be VW. That is, until a few weeks ago. Volkswagen Group, the parent company of Volkswagen, is the second biggest car manufacturer in the world, behind General Motors, owning and producing some of the most globally recognised brands, including Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.  Ultimately, with such a broad reach the emissions scandal that erupted within Volkswagen a few weeks ago was going to have broad ramifications.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many VW cars being sold in America had software installed in diesel engines that detected when the engine was being tested and adjusted the performance to improve results, creating emissions figures completely unconnected to reality.  This was perhaps particularly grating in the US as VW had gone on a charm offensive for the fuel and  according to the BBC, the primary focus of the campaign had been the benefits of diesel’s low emissions. 

So how did Volkswagen handle the scandal initially? 

Initially, the scandal was handled quite well.  The Guardian reported that Martin Winterkorn, the then CEO of Volkswagen Group had apologised stating that Volkswagen was “endlessly sorry” and Michael Horn, CEO of the US arm of the business similarly acknowledged that Volkswagen  had “totally screwed up”. There appeared to be a united front in the VW camp, however, from this position of strength, the story quickly unravelled.  Winterkorn was forced to deny rumours that he was set to be replaced by Porsche chief Matthias Müller, however, a few days after the scandal broke the rumours were proven true as Winterkorn was indeed replaced with Müller.  On the other side of the pond Michael Horn is clinging to his job, when, from the Company’s perspective, it might have been better for him to fall on his sword.   As details of the scandal emerged, VW fronted up, and admitted that in fact 11 million cars could have been affected not the lesser figure of almost 500,000, as outlined in the EPA report.

The Company, initially, appeared to get ahead of the scandal and be upfront about mistakes, potentially garnering some positive public opinion.  However this was quickly lost, as more details of the scandal emerged and the initial response seemed to no longer be up to scratch, and instead reflected at worst deception and at best that those at the top were out of touch with their own organisation.  VW has lost nearly €30 billion off its market cap since the scandal emerged, and has set aside €3.7bn to cover costs.  As a result, the Company has posted its first quarterly loss for 15 years of €2.5bn.  As the scandal has gone global, The Telegraph reported that 1.2 million cars in the UK were fitted with the illegal emissions-cheating software.  And now a fresh scandal appears to be brewing, as a poll of 2,000 of the affected drivers revealed 90% of them believed they were entitled to compensation, whilst Paul Willis VW’s UK boss has said that it is “premature” to talk about refunds.  In addition the German government is now urging the car giant to retest all of its vehicles in order to clear up the scandal – the dramatic fall in the VW share price has pushed down the entire German market forcing the government to get involved.  Finally, it was hoped that Matthias Muller’s appointment from Porsche would be untainted by the scandal, however, as new details of the crisis emerge it is clear that Porsche is also affected.  According to Reuters, up to 800,000 cars sold in Europe could be affected by the deception.

Ultimately the full repercussions of the VW scandal are as yet unknown.  It is unclear whether the brand has been irreparably damaged or if it will recover over time.  One thing is for certain, it is a long road for Volkswagen to get back to its pre-crisis share price of €134.81. At its lowest point, so far, during the crisis the share price was €68.51, with more loses predicted.  From all this, we can see that VW have produced neither the “people’s car” or even “the car”, they have created a situation from which it may never fully recover.

Last week, Abchaps hosted a market lunch, where topics from opportunities in the standard listing market and cyber security issues were discussed. We also met with Arden Partners at our offices, and enjoyed canapes and drinks with the team by the end of the week.   

Last week Nathalie Merrens was appointed as head of investment solutions for its private office, she joins from Kleinwort Benson with over 25 years’ experience in financial services having held roles at Citibank and UBS wealth management.

Allianz gain a Director in Tim Bird, he will be directing their UK institutional sales and client services team and joins from the institutional relationship management team. At T Rowe Price. Bird has also held roles at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, HSBC Asset Management and Mercury Asset Management.

Law firm Clyde & Co have appointed Mark Sutton as senior equity partner in its professional and financial disputes group. Mark has over 15 years’ experience, and specialises in large claims against directors, banks, corporate trustees, Lloyd’s brokers, financial advisers, fund managers, stock brokers, accountants and corporate services providers.

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