Monday, June 11, 2007

QLT not on the QT

A couple of weeks ago I was in North China Park and heard a sound like a car alarm and a lot of shouting. The noise went on and on. When I walked to the top of the hill and looked down to the north, I saw a demonstration going on, just across Great Northern Way. There were four young men with black balaclavas covering their faces, walking with signs. One of them had a hand-held electric bullhorn that made the alarm sounds, and he was also shouting through it. The amplified and distorted sound bounced off the walls of the buildings, so it was impossible to understand what he was saying. Another man was standing on the hill with me watching, but neither of us had binoculars, so we couldn't read the signs. There were four police cars parked around the four demonstrators. Two uniformed police stood on the sidewalk watching. After a while, a fifth demonstrator walked over, carrying a sign.

Finally one of the chants was clear enough that we realized it was a demonstration against animal testing. The building they were standing in front of was QLT Inc. I looked them up on the web, and found this listing:

QLT Inc.
A global pharmaceutical company specializing in the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative therapies to treat cancer, eye diseases and niche areas. Combining expertise in ophthalmology, oncology and photodynamic therapy, QLT has commercialized two products to date, including Visudyne™ therapy.
Address: 887 Great Northern Way Vancouver BC, V5T 4T5
Tel: 604-707-7000
Fax: 604-707-7001

Visudyne™ is a drug for treating age-related macular degeneration, and QLT manufactures it. There's a web page here that describes how Visudyne™ works.

Back in 1997, QLT acquired from Germany and then got approval for what was reportedly the first "photodynamic" drug, Photofrin™, used for treating lung cancer and esophageal cancer. Too bad it wasn't around before 1993 when my dad died of esophageal cancer.

In December 2006, the former CEO and President who got Visudyne™ through the drug approval process, Dr. Julia Levy, retired from QLT's board. Dr. Levy participated in developing photodynamic drugs in general, and Visudyne™, in particular, while she was a professor at UBC. She went private to form Quadra Logic Technologies in 1981. There's an admiring bio of her on the site Inventive Women,
and a quote from Dr. Levy appears on the blog Brilliant Idiot:
I think the financial success one has at the early stage of a company like that is being able to tell a story and sell a dream.

- Dr. Julia Levy
Co-founder, QLT Inc.

QLT is listed on the stock exchanges in two countries. In the US on NASDAQ (QLTI) and on the Toronto Stock Exchange - TSX - it's (QLT). According to QLT, their sales of Visudyne™ dropped 46% in the first quarter of 2007. As of June 1, they announced they were buying back shares of their stock from the public "for cancellation."
According to The Motley Fool, a website that makes stock recommendations, QLT has been buying back shares for a year. It says they can afford to buy back the shares with current profits, but their sales are dropping because another drug company patented a rival macular degeneration treatment. QLT also had to pay to settle a patent-infringement lawsuit over Eligard™, a hormone treatment for prostate cancer acquired when they bought another company.

When a company buys back its shares, that's supposed to signal to investors that they think their stock will do well in the future, despite current problems. But on the other hand, it could be a fake-out.

QLT's slogan might seem excessively arrogant to some:

"Our business is science. Our Product is life."

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