Some Bold Baseball and Biotech Picks for the 2013 Season

3/11/13Follow @xconomy

Spring training is here. That means I get to spend days thinking and writing about biotech and nights dreaming about hard-throwing setup men with decent walks-plus-hits-allowed per inning pitched (WHIP) ratios who have a shot at becoming a closer.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide which obsession is the greater malady.

Kidding aside, I happen to subscribe to the notion that all kinds of useful ideas and metaphors from the national pastime can be applied to other aspects of life, including biotech. As I wrote last year, in the first of what I think ought to be an annual BioBeat-meets-baseball column, the game is full of some fascinating human characters we can see everywhere. There are underrated rookies (usually in Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh), superstars with a lot to prove (hello Los Angeles Dodgers) and teams full of overrated players past their prime (usually in New York).

Sometimes baseball even inspires innovation. The whole data-intensive sabermetrics movement chronicled in “Moneyball” changed the way baseball executives value players a decade ago. Today’s “big data” movement is prompting lots of people to think of new ways to use data to drive better decisions in drug development, healthcare, and other aspects of life. See Kyle Serikawa’s recent guest post for an idea of what I’m talking about.

OK, so in the spirit of using baseball to find new insights on biotech, and have a little fun along the way, here are some baseball-inspired awards. If you have other suggestions of baseball-inspired biotech honors (and dishonors), I’d love to hear them.

Here are a few of mine:

The Jacoby Ellsbury Comeback Player of the Year: Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY). Last year this time, I was all fired up about the gifted Red Sox centerfielder, drafting him in the second round of my fantasy draft. Ellsbury hurt his shoulder, and stunk when he returned. At 29, he is still in his prime, has a lot to prove, and many observers expect him to return to form this year, especially since he’s in the last year of his contract and poised to become a free agent.

Alnylam CEO John Maraganore

Alnylam is the leading developer of RNA interference drugs, with all the intellectual property, management pedigree, money, and external validation that you expect of a hot biotech prospect. It went through some travails for a few years. Big daddy Roche turned its back, skeptics wondered whether it could ever deliver RNAi drugs effectively, and it ran into a messy IP dispute with Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR). It started last baseball season with its stock trading in the $11-12 a share range. But in the past year, it settled the Tekmira dispute, and made people forget about Roche when it started to show impressive clinical trial data with drug candidate for a rare disease called TTR amyloidosis. Steve Dickman connected a lot of the dots in the Alnylam story in this recent guest post. But if you don’t have time to read the whole story, here’s the box score: Alnylam investors saw their holdings double in the past year, closing at $24.58 a share on Friday.

The Alex Rodriguez ‘Can We Renegotiate That Contract Now?’ Award: New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY). The Yankees gave their star third baseman the biggest contract in Major League Baseball history, a 10-year, $275 million deal for Rodriguez in December 2007. It was defensible on paper at the time, as Rodriguez was 32, and had just finished a season in which he batted .314 with 54 homers and 156 runs batted in. Rodriguez performed well in the first two years of the contract, but the last four years have been a story of decline. He’s out for at the start of this year now because of hip surgery, and might miss the whole season.

Bristol-Myers executives must know the feeling Yankees executives get when they think about that A-Rod contract. Bristol shelled out $2.5 billion last January to acquire Alpharetta, GA-based Inhibitex at the height of Big Pharma’s frenzy for new antiviral drugs to fight hepatitis C. Only eight months later, Bristol reported … Next Page »

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  • tigers fan

    So, what company compares with Miguel Cabrera? The MVP and triple crown winner. Yes, it may be old-time statistics, but it also the first time a player has achieved it in 35 yrs.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    Good question. Miguel Cabrera is an all-around great player, no matter what kinds of stats you look at. The Miguel Cabrera MVP award would have to go to Gilead Sciences. I was skeptical of its Pharmasset acquisition at first, but the Foster City, CA-based biotech giant remains strong in its HIV business, and looks like it has another winner in its lead Hepatitis C drug candidate. I’m confident it has another good one in the pipeline with GS-1101 for hematologic malignancies, which will enable it to break into the cancer field in a big way. It’s taken a while, but Gilead is becoming much more than the 1-dimensional HIV player it used to be, and turning into more of a 5-tool player who can do it all — run, field, throw, hit for power, hit for average.