What follows is PART 8 of a 15-PART series. The remaining installments will appear on Deep Capture in the coming days, after which point the story will be published in its entirety.
Click here to read PART 1
Click here to read PART 2
Click here to read PART 3
Click here to read PART 4
Click here to read PART 5
Click here to read PART 6
Click here to read PART 7
Where we left off, we had learned that Dendreon had come under a blistering, illegal naked short selling attack, right at the time that the FDA’s expert advisory panel had voted overwhelmingly that the company’s promising treatment for prostate cancer should be approved, and right before that treatment was to be derailed by some strange occurrences.
We had learned further that in the days before those strange occurrences only ten hedge funds on the planet were known to possess large numbers of Dendreon put options (bets against the company), and seven of those hedge funds were tied to Michael Milken or his close associates. Also, we had learned that Michael Milken himself, through a fund called ProQuest Investments, stood to profit from the demise of Dendreon through ProQuest’s investment in Dendreon’s competitor, Novacea.
While Milken was the principal investor and dealmaker for ProQuest, the fund was ostensibly founded by two men, Jay Moorin and Jeremy Goldberg, who had interesting backgrounds. Moorin had founded Magainin (later renamed “Genaera”), a drug company that specialized in curing cancer and other ills with all manners of potions derived from exotic beats, but over its 30 year history, ending with its closure last month, never actually produced a drug.
Goldberg, I noted, was best known for founding a biotech company called Versicor with a man named Timothy Barberich, who was simultaneously bankrolling a casino venture with a shady businessman named Adam Kidan and an alleged Mafia bookkeeper named Anthony Moscatiello. Kidan and Moscatiello, meanwhile, wound up in a business dispute with Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, who was subsequently murdered, execution-style.
These two individuals – Jeremy Goldberg and Jay Moorin – were the front men for Milken’s fund.
Now we learn more about Milken’s ProQuest Investments, and begin to describe those strange occurrences that derailed Dendreon in the spring of 2007….
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Adam Kidan was named as a suspect in the murder of Gus Boulis and was questioned, but never charged. Instead, he went to jail for his dealings with Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Washington lobbyist. Moscatiello, the alleged Mafia bookkeeper, was arrested and charged with the murder. When he was released on parole, he disappeared. Lately, he has been featured on the popular television program, “America’s Most Wanted.”
Barberich, chairman of Versicor, said he hardly knew Moscatiello or Kidan, and only got involved as the chief financier of their casino because he’d seen an advertisement in a newspaper. Meanwhile, Jeremy Goldberg left Versicor and “founded” ProQuest Investments, Michael Milken’s vehicle for investing in companies that supposedly have treatments for prostate cancer.
Milken is barred from the securities industry, so even though he seems to have been largely responsible for building ProQuest, it is not surprising that he does not appear on ProQuest’s website. Goldberg’s name isn’t listed either. And there are a few other names that disappeared from the website after people began investigating ProQuest.
Among the missing are the names of the people who sit on ProQuest’s advisory board of directors. Thankfully, we have screenshots of the fund’s website, taken prior to the whitewashing.
The screenshots show that at the time that Dendreon was getting mauled in 2007, ProQuest’s advisory board included the following: Jonathan Simons, president and CEO of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; Howard Soule, executive vice president of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; Stuart Holden, medical director of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; William G. Nelson, a doctor who sits on the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; James Blair, manager of ProQuest affiliate Domain Associates and a board member of Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; David B. Agus, a doctor with Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; and, finally, a doctor (I’ll introduce him shortly) who was the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” of Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation.
In other words, ProQuest Investments, which is Milken’s investment fund (though Milken doesn’t tell people that), enjoys remarkable overlap with Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit, the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Which raises a question: What does the Prostate Cancer Foundation do with the money that it solicits from generous people — not just wealthy donors but also average folks who want to fight cancer and donate what they can?
I do not mean to be dismissive of a philanthropy. I am sure there are well-meaning people who work at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It has served as a forum for many of the world’s leading doctors to exchange information, and it has raised awareness of a terrible disease. All philanthropy, one can argue, is good. And since Milken himself is a prostate cancer survivor, one is inclined to believe that his interest in battling the disease is genuine.
But that might be to underestimate Milken’s love of “the game” — his desire to be a player in the world. It might also be to underestimate the particular world that Milken inhabits. It is a world of people who desire money, yes, but who perhaps desire in greater measure both stature and influence. For stature and influence blind the public and soothe the conscience.
For the miscreant, to play “the game” is fun. To play the game and cheat is more fun still. But it is perhaps also as simple as this: the miscreant desires to feel no shame. He wants to be able to say to himself, “I am important. I am prominent… .I have the approval of others.”
Certainly, Milken has used his “philanthropy” to ingratiate himself with the establishment and the public at large. He is one of the few convicted criminals who has returned to “prominence.” So, it seems, he has gotten one over on us. He has won. But “the game” is never over. And in the view of Deep Capture, winning matters more to Milken than battling the disease that once afflicted him.
Yes, it’s all about “the game.”
This might explain why Milken’s “philanthropic” outfit snubbed its nose at Dendreon, a company that did not have a cure for prostate cancer, but did boast the most promising new treatment available—a treatment that could have been safely administered to patients right away. This might explain why Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation instead supported Novacea, a company whose controlling shareholders were Milken’s ProQuest Investments and Domain Associates. As we will see, Novacea’s treatment was more likely to kill patients than save them, but that does not matter when it’s all about winning “the game.”
To win the game, of course, one must have allies — preferably miscreants who know a good scheme when they see it. Perhaps that is why Perceptive Advisors, which is an affiliate of Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald’s biotech empire, invested a large sum in Milken’s Novacea while serving as one of the seven Milken-network hedge funds that bet big against Dendreon.
As you will recall, Perceptive Advisors didn’t just bet big, it also pounded Dendreon by exercising call options, flooding the market with millions upon millions of Dendreon shares. Simultaneously, Milken crony Steve Cohen, whose former top trader was a vice president of Lindsay Rosenwald’s Paramount Capital, flooded the market with at least 1.6 million Dendreon shares.
But it’s not just about winning the game. It’s about the exhilaration of pushing the limits. It’s about being brazen – brazen to the extreme; brazen to point of lunacy – and seeing if you can (ha! ha! ha!) get away with it.
Perhaps that is why Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation went to extraordinary lengths (delivering money, organizing conferences, dispatching prominent doctors) to promote a mostly untested prostate cancer treatment – a treatment (Abiraterone) that was ostensibly being developed by Cougar Biotechnology, the company that was controlled until recently by the above-mentioned Lindsay Rosenwald, who is not only the son-in-law of the “king of stock fraud,” but also a former vice chairman of D.H. Blair – a firm whose president was Michael Milken’s former national sales manager; a firm that was tied to the Mafia and indicted on 173 counts of securities fraud; a firm that was best known for fraudulently pumping and dumping biotech companies that had no real medicine whatsoever.
Yes, it’s all about “the game.”
Perhaps this also explains the strange occurrences that began in the Spring of 2007.
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In the weeks after the FDA’s advisory panel meeting on March 29, 2007, there were only three financial analysts on the planet who were giving a “sell” rating to Dendreon’s stock.
The first two you have already met. One was the song-singing Sendek of Lazard research, the outfit run by the former head of research at a subsidiary of TheStreet.com, which was co-founded by Milken crony Marty Peretz, short selling hedge funds, and Jim Cramer, the former hedge fund manager turned “journalist.”
The second was Jonathan Aschoff, the doctor-impersonating fraud who used to work for Sturza’s Institutional Research, a firm that specialized in publishing biased, negative financial research on biotech companies for a network of short sellers that included the likes of Jim Chanos (Sturza’s current employer) and Michael Steinhardt (mentor to Chanos; son of the “biggest Mafia fence in America”; partner of Milken co-conspirator Ivan Boesky; and incubator of Jim Cramer’s hedge fund).
The third financial analyst who was bashing Dendreon in the spring of 2007 was Maged Shenouda of UBS, the investment bank. Shenouda’s arguments against Dendreon matched almost precisely those of Aschoff and the singing Sendek, both of whom we have shown to be part of the Milken network. So it is probably significant that Shenouda’s boss, the president of UBS’s investment banking, was (until March 2007) Ken Moelis, who had once been a trader for Michael Milken’s operation at Drexel, Burnham, Lambert. Indeed, Moelis had been one of Milken’s most trusted and favored employees.
While this protégé of Milken was president of UBS, the company had become one of the more crooked banks in the world. According to the Department of Justice, for example, UBS “systematically and deliberately” violated U.S. law by recruiting Americans looking to evade taxes. But, of course, it was not ordinary Americans who hid their money at UBS. It was only the wealthiest of people, especially hedge fund managers, who stashed billions upon billions of dollars in secret accounts at UBS, while perhaps taking advantage of the bank’s other “services” as well.
Was one those “services” illegal naked short selling? In 2006, the Louisiana attorney general filed court documents to compel UBS to hand over records that would help answer that question. Specifically, the attorney general suspected that UBS had, along with Refco, processed phantom stock for Rhino Advisors, the hedge fund whose manager became a fugitive from U.S. law, living in Austria, his money undoubtedly stashed in secret bank accounts, after his “unbridled” criminal naked short selling destroyed companies that had been hobbled by fraudulent “death spiral” PIPEs deals, many of which were brokered by Milken crony Carl Icahn’s Ladenburg Thalmann.
In March of 2007, when Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment appeared to be on the fast track to FDA approval, and a UBS research analyst was trashing Dendreon, another interesting event was unfolding. Specifically, Mitchel Guttenberg, who had sat on an elite 12-member committee that signed off on the contents of UBS’s financial research, had just been arrested by the FBI.
Prior to joining UBS, Guttenberg had not had a distinguished career. He started out in Wisconsin, where regulators determined that he was trading without a proper license. Later, he worked at a second-tier bank called First Albany and put in time at Axiom Capital, a firm that was once censured by the NASD for publishing false financial research on biotech companies. (More recently, one of Axiom’s brokers was charged with systematically defrauding mentally handicapped elderly people).
Moelis, the Milken protégé who was president of UBS, stacked the bank with his cronies, many of them former Milken employees, and had a propensity for hiring and promoting people who were a bit rough around the edges. For example, it would have been Moelis who promoted Guttenberg to the elite committee that signed off of UBS’s financial research.
Soon after joining UBS’s financial research committee, according to the DOJ, Guttenberg began illegally providing inside information about the contents of soon-to-be released UBS research reports to a circle of hedge fund managers and traders. Two of the traders who profited from Guttenberg’s tips worked for a hedge fund called Chelsey Capital. Previously, the SEC had investigated Chelsey Capital and a hedge fund called GLG Partners for allegedly paying investment banks large commissions (bribes) in exchange for privileged access to initial public offerings.
It is clear that GLG Partners (and perhaps, by extension, also Chelsey Capital) is a member of the network of hedge funds that is the subject of this story. Thanks to a lawsuit that Canadian insurer Fairfax Financial filed against SAC Capital (run by Milken crony Steve Cohen, the “most powerful trader on Wall Street”); Kynikos Associates (run by the above-mentioned Jim Chanos, who was featured in Chapter 6 of this story), and other hedge funds in their network, Deep Capture has acquired copies of emails that Jim Chanos sent to GLG Partners. While it is difficult to tell from these emails whether GLG participated in the network’s attack on Fairfax, Chanos certainly communicated with GLG about the status of that attack.
In March, 2007, when Mitchel Guttenberg, the member of UBS’s elite 12-member financial research committee, was arrested, the SEC stated that Guttenberg was at the center of “one of the most pervasive insider trading rings since the days of [Milken co-conspirator] Ivan Boesky….” A few days later, Moelis, the Milken protege, resigned from UBS to start his own investment bank.
A few months after that, French authorities busted another UBS insider trading ring, this one including UBS subsidiary UBS O’Conner; the above-mentioned GLG Partners; and a hedge fund called Meditor Capital. At the time, one of Meditor’s top traders was Andrew Billet, formerly of SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Milken crony Steve Cohen, who was one of the seven “colorful” traders who held large numbers of put options in Dendreon.
This connection would not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Steve Cohen is known to include former employees in his nationwide trading network, and in 2007, Meditor’s trading tended to run parallel to that of Cohen’s hedge funds. Indeed, Meditor’s biggest share purchases were in biotech companies – Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Vion Pharmaceuticals, Atherogenics, and Cypress Bioscience — that were also targeted by Cohen’s SAC Capital.
Moreover, in April, 2007, right before some strange occurrences were to derail Dendreon, Meditor purchased 1.6 million shares in Novacea, the company whose controlling shareholders (Michael Milken’s ProQuest and Domain Associates) must have known, for reasons that I will describe, that they would make money on their investment in Novacea only in the event that Dendreon’s treatment for prostate cancer failed to go to market.
Aside from Meditor Capital, there was, in the spring of 2007, only one other hedge fund that made a major investment in Milken’s Novacea – a company whose prostate cancer treatment, we will see, had no chance of reaching patients anytime soon. The second hedge fund was Perceptive Advisors, managed by an employee of Paramount Capital, whose vice president was formerly one of Steve Cohen’s top traders.
Perceptive Advisors, we know, was one of the seven “colorful” hedge funds that held large numbers of put options in Dendreon. And Paramount Capital was owned by Lindsay Rosenwald, the Milken crony who controlled Cougar Biotechnology, another Dendreon “competitor” that claimed to have a treatment for prostate cancer, though that treatment had almost no data showing that it could be safely administered to patients.
So we can begin to see a pattern – a pattern that is all the more interesting when you consider the strange occurrences that began in April 2007.
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I will get to those strange occurrences in a moment. But first let’s learn a bit more about that first UBS insider trading ring — the one that was busted in March 2007, when a UBS researcher was bashing Dendreon.
In addition to the Chelsey traders, the ring included two other miscreants – David Glass and David Tavdy, both of whom received advance notice of the contents of UBS’s financial research. Tavdy, described as a “scrappy” Russian immigrant, was a close friend and former First Albany co-worker of Mitchel Guttenberg, the fellow who was a member of UBS’s elite financial research committee. Tavdy earned a fortune from his trading, but apparently unsatisfied, he had painted on his expensive, high-speed motor boat the name, “Enough is Never Enough.”
Glass had previously spent most of his career at Sterling Foster, which was one of the first brokerages shut down by the FBI when the bureau began its crackdown on Wall Street outfits believed to be tied to the Mafia. Glass quit his job at Sterling Foster right before the FBI raided the firm, arresting 20 of its brokers. Later, Glass helped a close friend write the script for “Boiler Room,” the successful movie about a brokerage that specialized in ripping off investors.
Glass was the first one busted for his role in the UBS insider trading ring. The FBI promptly strapped him with a wire and dispatched him to record a conversation with a Wall Street greaseball named Larry McKeever, who had said that he was going to expose the UBS insider trading ring to the authorities unless Glass paid him a large sum of money.
In the course of this conversation, Glass mentioned Tavdy and Tavdy’s close friend, Mitchel Guttenberg, whom Milken crony Ken Moelis had promoted to UBS’s financial research committee, putting him in a position to illegally disclose the contents of upcoming UBS research reports.
Specifically, Glass told McKeever that the attempted bribe wasn’t a good idea because Guttenberg and Tavdy might find out about it. Glass was especially careful to warn McKeever about Tavdy. As Glass put it, Tavdy “probably knows the name of Larry McKeever.”
In response, McKeever said of Tavdy: “Listen, Glass, I kid you not—he’s a fucking dead man. I don’t give a fuck if he’s tied into the Russian mob or whatever. I’ll find that cocksucker, mark my words. My lips to your ears. He don’t know my name.”
At this point, McKeever appeared to have had second thoughts about issuing threats to Tavdy, a guy who might be tied to the Russian mob.
McKeever nervously added, “How does he know my name?”
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In March 2007, after the FDA advisory panel voted in favor of Provenge, the singing Sendek, the doctor-impersonating Aschoff, and the fellow from UBS’s troubled research shop were the only three financial analysts in the world who were dismissive of Dendreon’s prospects. But it is interesting to see what a determined public relations campaign can accomplish.
Dendreon’s treatment was the first-ever vaccine for cancer. It was the first-ever promising substitute for the ravages of chemo. And it was the first-ever cancer therapy that could target and boost the immune system. Although the data suggested that it did not prevent the inevitable end in some patients, but merely forestalled it, the treatment was truly revolutionary and seemed to have the potential to save a lot of people. So one might have expected some media excitement.
But Dendreon was a small company that did not understand how “the game” worked. The whispering hedge funds, along with their proxies — the song-singing, doctor-impersonating analysts – were more sophisticated. So the press reports on Dendreon were few in number. And most of them featured Sendek, Aschoff, or the UBS fellow voicing their party line that Provenge was “dangerous” – that the data was insufficient, that there were better drugs in the pipeline. And as the days went by we heard more and more about this strange notion that the Provenge advisory panel had asked the “wrong question” – that the FDA might have to “change the question.”
Dendreon’s enemies repeated their “talking points.” They stayed “on message.” They manufactured the news, and the news was that the FDA just might reject Dendreon’s application. Rarely mentioned was the fact the FDA had never in history rejected a drug for dying patients after its expert advisory panel had voted for approval.
But despite the weird news reports, Dendreon’s stock price continued to soar.
And so, the hedge funds continued to pile on. Call options (such as those exercised by the above-mentioned Perceptive Advisors, which was part of Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald’s biotech trading empire) were exercised in mass. And millions upon millions of phantom shares continued to flood the market. By April 10, Forbes magazine was reporting that Dendreon, a company that then had a market cap of just under $2 billion, had become one of the top three most heavily traded stocks on Wall Street – beating out Microsoft, Cisco, and Seagate Technologies.
On April 12, Jim Cramer tried to explain away the increase in the stock price. He told CNBC’s audience that they were witnessing a short “squeeze,” – the stock price was soaring as short sellers scrambled to buy shares to cover their positions. Cramer added that he was aware of one hedge fund manager who had failed to buy counterbalancing call options at an effective strike price. This was probably a reference to the above-mentioned Edelman. In any case, Cramer seemed to be saying that it was just a matter of time before the stock price would crash again.
Cramer was right about that. But there was no short “squeeze” – the short sellers were not covering their positions. To the contrary, they were growing their positions — exponentially. On April 4, 2007, around 3 million Dendreon shares were sold short. The next day, the number of shares sold short quadrupled – to 13 million. And more than 10 million shares were sold short every day leading up to April 12.
It is a safe bet that these short sellers knew that something was going to crack Dendreon’s stock price.
And sure enough, on April 13, Dendreon witnessed the first of some singularly strange occurrences.
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Late that day – April 13 – a newsletter called The Cancer Letter published a presumably confidential letter that Dr. Howard Scher of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center had written to the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Scher was one of the 17 doctors who had sat on the FDA’s advisory panel, and his letter — which was addressed to an FDA deputy commissioner and cc’d to then FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and an FDA official named Richard Pazdur – argued vehemently that Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment should not be approved.
This was strange for numerous reasons. For one, it was unprecedented for a doctor to lobby the FDA after an advisory panel had already voted on a treatment. Doctors who are contracted by the FDA to judge a treatment for a life threatening disease voice their opinions during the advisory panel meeting. At the end of the meeting, they are invited to vote on two questions: Is the treatment safe? And, is there “substantial evidence” that the treatment might improve the health of patients? The vote is considered final. When it’s done, the doctors are expected (as we will see) to go home and keep their opinions to themselves.
When Dendreon supporters and prostate cancer advocacy groups–including Care-To-Live, a heroic organization that has done much to publicize Dendreon’s travails–saw Scher’s letter, they asked Francesco Marincola, a doctor who had sat on the Provenge advisory panel, to write his own letter in Dendreon’s defense. Dr. Marincola declined. He said, “As you may well infer…I share many of your opinions. However, I strongly believe that my role as a member of the advisory board is to express my opinion during the meeting [and that] it would be ill advised to influence the FDA decision beyond that point.”
Dr. Marincola added: “If it is true (which I doubt) that some other member of the board contacted the FDA afterwards, it is beyond my control. But my personal opinion is that my credibility as a member of the board will be better preserved if I give my impartial opinion at the time of the meeting and let the FDA do their work afterwards.”
This, said Dr. Marincola, was a matter of preserving the “integrity of the process.”
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The second thing strange about Dr. Scher’s missive is that, within days, it ended up in the hands of The Cancer Letter, a publication whose subscribers include a significant number of Wall Street investors. FDA employees are forbidden to discuss the merits of medical products in public, and one big reason is that news of such discussions can profoundly affect stock prices.
The publication of Scher’s letter was reminiscent of an event that had made The Cancer Letter famous in the world of biotech – an event that had established The Cancer Letter’s reputation as an organ of short selling hedge funds. That event was the FDA’s decision in 2001 to deny approval of a cancer drug that had been developed by a biotech company called ImClone.
News of the ImClone decision was made public not by the FDA. Somebody had inside information that the FDA was going to reject ImClone’s cancer treatment, and that somebody leaked the information to The Cancer Letter, which published it with great fanfare. In the days prior to the publication, short selling in ImClone increased dramatically. Meanwhile, ImClone executives and their friends offloaded their shares.
One of those friends was Martha Stewart, who was then known for her all-American, home lifestyle products. Stewart was accused of trading on her inside information about the FDA’s ImClone decision. Ultimately, she went to jail for obstructing the DOJ’s investigation into her actions.
Others were more fortunate. A Congressional investigation into the ImClone affair produced phone records that showed who had called ImClone in the days before the FDA’s decision was made public by The Cancer Letter. These records show that on December 27, 2001, ImClone received phone calls from three hedge fund managers. Presumably, these three hedge fund managers had gotten wind of the imminent story in The Cancer Letter, and were calling to discuss.
It should surprise nobody that these hedge fund managers were all members of a particularly colorful Wall Street network. One of the three hedge funds that called ImClone that day was Ziff Brothers Investments. That, remember, is the fund that incubated the trading empire of Jim Chanos, who is now under investigation for trading ahead of reports issued by financial research firm Morgan Keegan. Dirk Ziff, as you will recall, was introduced to Chanos by Michael Steinhardt (Milken crony; Boesky partner; son of “the biggest Mafia fence in America”) and by Ziff’s Harvard Professor, Marty Peretz (Steinhardt partner; Boesky crony; Milken pal).
The second hedge fund that called ImClone that day was SAC Capital, run by Steve Cohen, the Milken crony who is “the most powerful trader on the Street.” As you will recall, Cohen is a Chanos collaborator (both received and communicated about advanced copies of the same Morgan Keegan reports, and they have frequently employed the same tactics, and the same thugs, to attack the same companies). As you will also recall, previously Cohen was the top earner at Gruntal & Company, a Mafia-linked brokerage that owed its existence to Milken’s junk bond finance. While there, he was reportedly investigated for trading on inside information provided to him by Milken’s people at Drexel Burnham.
The third fund manager who called ImClone that day was Carl Icahn, the Milken crony who founded the options department at the Mafia-linked Gruntal & Company before becoming a billionaire by brokering “death spiral” PIPEs financing in cahoots with criminal naked short sellers, and by blackmailing companies with finance from Milken and the Mafia-connected Zev Wolfson.
It is difficult to know whether these three fund managers acted on the secret ImClone information that The Cancer Letter made public soon after they called ImClone. We don’t know because the SEC does not require hedge funds to disclose their short positions, as they do their long holdings.
Short positions are, after all, a big secret.
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We do know that in the days leading up to The Cancer Letter’s publication of Dr. Scher’s letter, short selling of Dendreon’s stock increased dramatically. Meanwhile, criminal naked short sellers continued to churn out phantom stock. SEC data shows that at least 9 million shares had failed to deliver on April 10. There were similar numbers the following day, and on the day after that, more than 10 million shares had failed to deliver. On April 10, Dendreon’s stock was trading at its high of around $25. By April 12, the day before The Cancer Letter’s “scoop,” the stock had already nosedived to around $18.
This trading was strange. And as mentioned, Dr. Scher’s letter was strange.
It wasn’t just that Dr. Scher’s lobbying of the FDA was unprecedented and an affront to the “integrity” of the drug approval process. And it was not just that his letter to the FDA quickly appeared in The Cancer Letter (just as The Cancer letter had made public the FDA’s decision about ImClone). And it was not just that short selling hedge funds clearly knew that Dr. Scher’s letter was in the works.
It was that Dr. Scher’s letter precisely echoed the party line that had been put out by the whispering hedge funds, the song-singing Sendek, the UBS researcher, and the doctor-impersonating Jonathan Aschoff.
Like the Wall Street analysts, Dr. Scher said that Provenge had failed to meet its “primary end-points in two clinical trials” — that the data was not absolute “proof” that Provenge worked. And just as Aschoff had told journalists that it would be “dangerous” to approve Dendreon, Dr. Scher argued that the FDA would be somehow setting a dangerous precedent by approving a new standard of treatment.
Dr. Scher’s letter was also reminiscent of that Dendreon conference call, when the singing Sendek asked, over and over, whether the advisory panel had asked the “right question” and whether the FDA might have to “change the question.” Now Dr. Scher, too, was suggesting that the advisory panel had somehow been a sham – that it had “changed the question” regarding the efficacy of Provenge. Since the panel had voted on the wrong “question,” Scher argued, the panel’s overwhelming endorsement of Provenge should be disregarded.
It seemed that Dr. Scher, who is one of the most prominent cancer doctors in America, was parroting the medical wisdom of Wall Street goons. Either that, or the goons were parroting Dr. Scher. Whichever the case, and whatever their motivations, Wall Street miscreants and a prominent FDA-contracted doctor were now working in parallel to quash a promising treatment for prostate cancer.
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Here’s another factoid about Michael Milken’s ProQuest Investments. As I mentioned, ProQuest whitewashed its website, so that it no longer identifies the directors of its advisory board. Screenshots from the past allowed me, in a previous section of this story, to tell you who most of those directors were as of Spring, 2007. But there is one ProQuest director whom I have not yet identified by name.
This ProQuest director is a doctor. And his name is Howard Scher.
That is correct: Dr. Howard Scher, who sat on the advisory panel that voted on the merits of Dendreon’s prostate cancer treatment, and then trashed Dendreon’s treatment in a letter to the FDA (an unprecedented lobbying effort after an advisory panel had voted), was also a director of Michael Milken’s ProQuest Investments. In fact, Dr. Scher was not just a director of ProQuest, he was also an executive of the fund, which likely means he stood to profit from its investments.
|(l to r) Dr. David Solit, Tommy Lasorda, Dr. Howard Soule, Dr. Howard Scher and Michael Milken
Dr. Scher was, moreover, the chairman of the “Therapeutic Consortium” at Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation. He also received unknown amounts of money as the lead investigator of Asentar, the prostate cancer treatment that was being developed by Novacea, whose controlling investors were Milken’s ProQuest Investments and its affiliate, Domain Associates. Meanwhile, Dr. Scher was a paid member of the advisory board of Cougar Biotechnology, the Dendreon competitor that was controlled by Milken crony Lindsay Rosenwald, formerly of the Mafia-connected pump-and-dump stock fraud shop D.H. Blair.
It is bad enough that the world’s foremost financial criminal, Michael Milken, stood to profit from the demise of a promising prostate cancer treatment. It is disconcerting to know that Lindsay Rosenwald, a Mafia-connected Milken-crony with a record of destroying real companies and creating fake companies, is among the biggest biotech players in the nation – a player who controls 8% of the world’s pharmaceutical firms. It is unsettling to know that this crony and those seven Milken-network hedge funds with large numbers of put options were no doubt intent on seeing Dendreon fail.
But somehow, the saddest news of all is that Dr. Scher took unprecedented steps to derail a competing treatment that could have extended the lives of a great many men. Dr. Scher is one of the most prominent physicians in America. He is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on prostate cancer. His opinions matter. His advice is heeded. It is likely that at some point Dr. Scher believed that other treatments were superior to Dendreon’s, but somewhere along the line, he seems, at least to some extent, to have let his motives become mixed in with his incentives.
Given his connections to Milken’s ProQuest Investments, to Novacea (the company controlled by ProQuest and an affiliate) and to Dendreon’s other competitors (such as Cougar Biotechnology), Dr. Scher probably should not have sat on the FDA advisory panel that voted on whether Dendreon should be approved. He certainly should not have been lobbying the FDA. He should not have trashed Dendreon’s treatment, for as he must have known, due to these other relationships, he could no longer claim to be an objective observer.
He had what they call…well, in more innocent times, they called it a “conflict of interest”
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Maybe we should not be too hard on Dr. Scher. I am reminded of a story that I once reported for Time Magazine in Asia, about a network of Mafia-connected stock brokerages that had set up shop in Bangkok, Thailand in order to avoid the FBI “Mob on Wall Street” crackdown that led to Operation Uptick in 2000. The owners of the brokerages were bad guys (there was a point where they nearly began murdering each other in the streets of Bangkok), but they had become quite prominent in some business circles. They were also fantastically generous “philanthropists.”
The bad guys gave especially large sums of money to a priest who was famous for the wonderful work he had done to help people in Bangkok’s most dire slums. The priest was, of course, grateful for the contributions, and he used every opportunity to speak highly of his benefactors. Even when the bad guys were charged with crimes – even when they became fugitives from the law – the priest spoke quite strongly in their defense. He simply refused to acknowledge that the criminals were anything other than “prominent” businessmen and “prominent” philanthropists.
The priest was not a bad man. He was as good as they come. But he had received so much money – and he had deployed this money to so much good purpose – that he was inclined to continue working with the criminals.
The famous priest should have condemned the miscreants. He was an important voice of moral authority. But by the wonders of human psychology, he possibly believed, quite genuinely, that the criminals had done no wrong. We call this phenomenon “deep capture.” The priest had been “captured” by the criminals. His judgment was clouded.
Perhaps Dr. Scher was a priest of the medical community. Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation had donated tens of millions of dollars to Dr. Scher’s hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering (a hospital, it should be noted, by way of disclosure, that has also received significant donations from the family of Deep Capture reporter Patrick Byrne, whose cancer was successfully treated there). With support from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Dr. Scher and Memorial Sloan have been able to continue their research into experimental treatments that perhaps will one day help patients.
No doubt, Dr. Scher was grateful for this generosity. No doubt, he was earnest about his Milken-financed investigations and believed that he was contributing to the advancement of science. Meanwhile, Milken and his foundation had become quite “prominent” players in the fight against prostate cancer. Indeed, it is fair to say that Milken, more than anyone, had come to dominate the prostate cancer establishment. Nobody had more influence. So, in Dr. Scher’s view, it perhaps made perfect sense to collaborate with this criminal. As his collaboration grew, he perhaps became inextricably tied to the work – not just financially, but also emotionally.
The phenomenon of “deep capture” is indeed pervasive. And it is pervasive because it can swallow anyone – even those with the best of intentions.
That said, Dr. Scher’s letter to the FDA was not merely the work of an earnest but “captured” physician. As we will see, it was conniving. It trashed Dendreon in a manner that was patently dishonest, and exaggerated the promise of a treatment (the one under development at Milken’s Novacea) that would soon be shown to be ineffective.
Unwittingly or not, Dr. Scher aided the machinations of the criminal Michael Milken. And as we will see, there are good reasons to suspect that those machinations were not about philanthropy or fighting cancer, or even about investing in companies that had genuine value.
The machinations were about destroying a good company so that Milken and a network of hedge funds could make a big bundle of money.
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To be continued…Click here for Chapter 9.
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