The $2 Billion Mouse

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Medarex (just bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb for nearly double the stock price) because Medarex has a transgenic mouse that can produce therapeutic antibodies that mirror a human’s antibodies. .

Mice are my favorite critters anyway, because I literally grew up in the Frank H.J. Figge mouse lab. The lab had 5,000 mice, who owed their existence to my father’s cancer research efforts, and my late mother, Rosalie Yerkes Figge, ran the breeding colony. My sister and I helped out in the family business with such age-appropriate tasks as filing records and filling glass bowls with cedar shavings (at five years old), transferring mice by their tails to clean bowls (age seven), and separating and marking the adolescent mice (age 10).

So when Donald Drakeman (left) started Medarex as a monoclonal antibody company in 1987 and 10 years later bought Genpharm with its transgenic HuMAb mouse, developed by Nils Lonberg, I was personally and professionally intrigued. Given the cost and time needed to administer clinical trials to humans, the Medarex mouse can help bring important drugs to market quickly and cheaply. I thought Drakeman was pretty smart to wend his way through some nasty patent disputes and emerge, owning the mouse.

Drakeman and his wife, Lisa Drakeman, have been on the cover of U.S. 1 at least three times, starting in 1987 when it was a pop-and-mom shop with offices at 20 Nassau Street. She came to Medarex as SVP of business development and moved on to be CEO of Genmab. He is no longer with Medarex but she is still at Genmab, based in Denmark but with an office here in Princeton.

Yesterday Bristol-Myers Squibb bought Medarex for what amounts to $2.1 billion, and this morning the stock of both companies shot up, with Medarex nearly doubling to $15 plus.

What does this do for GenMab? Nothing, GenMab claims. Medarex has sold most of its GenMab stock, earned in return for granting 16 prepaid licenses to use the special mouse for drug development. Medarex still owns 5 percent of GenMab, says GenMab’s PR person, Lucy McNiece. Of the 16 licenses, 13 have been used.

And now, of course, I kick myself for not having bought Medarex stock. Before I left my job at U.S. 1 in 2008, it would have been a conflict of interest for me to own it and also report on it. After that, naysaying from a stock broker (who shall remain nameless) deterred me.

But as my doc brother in law says, the Retro Spectroscope is never wrong. And congratulations to the prescient Medarex stockholders, the Drakeman family, and New Jersey’s biotech community. A rising tide raises all boats.

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