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Neurotrope Alzheimer’s release takes an odd turn

May 6, 2017

In what seems uncomfortably close to “fake news,” there are questions regarding promotional press releases for a publicly traded biotech company, Neurotrope (NTRP) and its Alzheimer’s drug, bryostatin.

Here’s what appears to be the facts. On May 1, Neurotrope announced positive top-line results from its Phase II trial of Bryostatin-1 in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It appears to be a straightforward press release that is attempting to put a positive spin on a mid-stage trial for a disease where mid-stage trials are often positive, but proven useless in later, larger trials.

In an article for TheStreet, Adam Feuerstein notes, “How did Neurotrope spin a negative Alzheimer’s study into something positive? By excluding patients and the highest dose of bryostatin from the analysis. Neurotrope enrolled 147 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s into the clinical trial, but chose to highlight results from a subset consisting of half the enrolled patients who completed the 13 weeks of the study and were treated with the lower of two bryostatin doses.”

Although many biopharma companies try to put a positive spin on bad news, Neurotrope appeared to be more aggressive in this case, although investors weren’t having it. Company shares dropped 63 percent from $11.84 to $6.97. Neurotrope stock is currently trading for $8.63.

Then the story takes a weird turn. Sharon di Stefano, who was formerly a healthcare sell-side analyst, but now runs a consulting company, Small Cap Forecasting, published an article on Seeking Alpha that defended Neurotrope. The article has since been removed.

Di Stefano’s article was then rewritten into an apparently paid, promotional press release and distributed over Accesswire, a news distribution service. And it’s not the first time this was done with one of di Stefano’s articles.

Derek Lowe, a medicinal chemist and blogger, ripped apart the Accesswire piece based on di Stefano’s article.

In today’s TheStreet piece, Feuerstein points out that, “Last month, the SEC filed charges against 27 people involved in an alleged stock-promotion scheme in which writers were secretly paid to write hundreds of bullish articles about publicly traded biotech companies. Most of the articles were published on Seeking Alpha under the guise of being independent and impartial analyses of the biotech companies, but in fact, they were bought and paid for by shady stock-promotions firms, or in some cases, by the biotech companies themselves.”

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Which then circles back to di Stefano. Feuerstein contacted her and published their interview. One of his first questions was, “Are you paid or compensated by Neurotrope?”

She responded, “Oh gosh, no. No, no, no, no, no. Because I would not be able to post on Seeking Alpha if that was the case. I would never, ever do that. Absolutely not. I was a healthcare sell-side analyst for many years and compliance has been drilled into my skull forever.”

She insists that she did not issue the press release. She has a friend in PR, someone named Janet, who did. “We’re just friends,” di Stefano said. “She sent it to AccessWire or Seeking Alpha. I was surprised it came up on both.”

AccessWire is a paid service; in other words, for companies or individuals to get their press releases listed, they have to pay. The di Stefano stories released by AccessWire have a media contact listed as Jackie Rodriguez, who di Stefano claims not to know, although the friend “Janet” apparently works for the same PR company, although di Stefano says she doesn’t know what the PR company is.

Janet Rodriguez apparently works for JV Public Relations, which represents biotech micro-cap and penny stocks, and was founded by Janet Vasquez.

Feuerstein doesn’t necessarily draw conclusions about di Stefano, although her history suggests very positive stories about a number of biotech companies represented by JV Public Relations. That’s not an indictment and she claims to have done her due diligence.

In his blog post about the Accesswire post, Derek Lowe wrote, “How anyone is allowed to go on like this about a publicly traded company is beyond me. ‘Restoring life and energy to brain components that have died?’ I used to hear more believable pitches from Mexican border-blaster AM stations on late-night car rides in the 1970s; this sounds like Reverend Ike selling Prayer Cloths. And at least he admitted up front that he was just in it for the money. What’s Neurotrope’s excuse for this publicity stunt?”

Neurotrope has told Howe they have no connection to the articles published except for their initial press release.


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