The past week has been nothing short of an absolute roller-coaster ride for those watching Celsion (CLSN), one of the most squawked about biotech companies on the market right now. ThermoDox, its liver cancer treatment currently in Phase III of FDA approval, has started to represent the future fate of the company. Shares in Celsion have risen sharply over the previous six months, representing tons of buying in anticipation of a grand slam with ThermoDox. Contributors have been furiously penning detailed opinions of why they believe ThermoDox is a winner or why it might be some time to take money in Celsion off the table.
On Wednesday of last week, in what seemed like normal trading, Celsion's shares plummeted in a matter of seconds on nearly 1 million shares traded. Earlier in the day, Seeking Alpha published a editorial called "Taking Some Profits in Celsion," on the heels of which followed a bidwhacking bonanza. Celsion fell off a cliff, trading lower by roughly 30% before a single circuit breaker halt was issued, stopping the chaos in its tracks. Investors long in Celsion, like me, panicked immediately. Assuming the worst, we frantically tried to find something of substance regarding the crash - news release, Phase III data, analyst report. In awe, I couldn't find anything, and no sooner did the idea of buying into this crash cross my mind than Celsion was already gapping upwards.
Well known Celsion guru Siavoche gets credit for being the first to offer up the mindset of the company after the crash. Siavoche was quick to point out that Roth Capital Partners were the first to stand up for Celsion, almost immediately offering an amended analyst report on the company, stating they've spoke with management and that everything remains status quo. The Roth report reiterated their "anticipating a potential positive outcome for the HEAT study" and 12 month price target of $10. The stock opened back up at $7.41, paring most of its losses and eventually closed the day about 10% lower on a frightened retail taking profits, a significant improvement over the 30+% lower the stock was trading pre-halt.
Investors scrambled for answers. With the CEO commenting that "the company remains on track" and "the fundamentals of the company have not changed," it would be hard pressed to imagine him sitting on bad Phase III data and making a comment of the sorts. Was it a bear raid, purposely done to take out stop-limit orders in order to suck up cheap shares or cover a short ahead of news? Could it have been a fat fingered trade, where the initial 985k share order went off as a market sell, effectively playing whack-a-mole all the way down the bid chain? Is it possible that a computer somewhere simply had a spastic algorithm failure, a la the Knight Capital Group mess from earlier in 2012? Could it simply have just been extreme panic selling, a likely culprit on a stock this volatile whose price has been up 5-fold in six months strictly on emotion and speculation? How about, with options expiring on Friday of the same week, wanting to drive the price down so contract writers could reap the benefits of the absurd premiums on out of the money options? Could it really have been a Phase III data leak? There were a multitude of potential reasons, but the day drew to a close and Celsion remained somewhat stable through after-hours trading.
As the market closed and we pushed forward into Thursday, most investors expected the fuss to die down. Celsion investors dutifully silenced their alarm clocks in the morning, rose, and checked on their biotech baby, hoping for a further rebound from the previous day. What they got was the proverbial "urination in the morning Cheerios," as earlier in the morning Brean Murray had a issued what appeared to be a extremely coincidentally timed downgrade on Celsion, setting its price target at $1. Who was the reputable analyst behind such a bold move? None other than Jonathan Aschoff, who issued a very similar downgrade on Dendreon, which less than a year later would be trading at highs in the $50 region. This perked up investors ears, but absolutely crushed Celsion as it opened lower on Thursday. Later that day, Griffin Securities would come out and maintain their $18 price target. Celsion investors know that only one of these two parties can be right.
It is now known that no Phase III results were made public by the company this week. The proof is going to lie solely on what the company presents for ThermoDox's Phase III results, and they've noted several times this week that they still expect to release these results before the end of January 2013.
This leads me to reiterate the binary risk associated with Celsion. Saying there's a bit of a volatility associated with Celsion right now is like saying that water's a little wet. I remain bullish on ThermoDox after months of research and on the heels of continued fine due diligence by people like Siavoche and SA contributor Alex Heisenberg. However, the risk carried here is one that could be of potential total loss, and it's important that investors know that. This potential approval carries with it the life of the company.
Having said that, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that because of the implied volatility in Celsion, longs can potentially set up some great situations for themselves writing calls. With Celsion trading around $6.50 (+/- 0.25) as I type this, February 13 option premium+price differences range from $4.10 to $11.95, depending on how far out of the money you want to venture. An investor long Celsion stands to make serious loot by writing contracts, as option hungry investors seek to play spreads and place bets on a stock with an implied volatility over 400%. There is money to be made in options with Celsion, whether you're hedging or finding a niche spread that you feel comfortable playing.
This investor has been buying on the panic and downgrades, hoping that the pro move here is to wait for the results. I've seen enough curious patterns of trading and timely upgrades/downgrades in my day to not let this last week falter my resolve in the company and in ThermoDox. Bulls and bears - like Highlander, there can be only one in this case. Whatever result, I'm appreciative of the hard work at Celsion and what they're trying to do for medicine. I'm standing with my long position in Celsion come hell or high water, and whatever side you're on, I wish you the best of luck.
Disclosure: I am long CLSN.