On Tuesday, the SEC announced that it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court charging a former employee of Medivation Inc., an oncology-focused biopharma, with insider trading in advance of Medivation’s announcement that it would be acquired by a big pharma company.  But it’s not what you might think.  The employee didn’t trade in shares of Medivation or shares of the acquiror, nor did he tip anyone about the transaction.  No, according to the SEC, he used the information about his employer’s acquisition to purchase call options on a separate biopharma company, Incyte Corporation, which the SEC claims was comparable to Medivation.  According to the SEC, the employee made that purchase based on an assumption that the acquisition of Medivation at a healthy premium would probably boost the share price of Incyte. Incyte’s stock price increased after the sale of Medivation was announced.  The SEC charged that the employee breached his “duty to refrain from using Medivation’s proprietary information for his own personal gain” and traded ahead of the announcement, in violation of Rule 10b-5.  Will the SEC succeed or is the factual basis of the charge just too attenuated?

According to the SEC’s complaint:  Matthew Panuwat was employed in business development at Medivation from September 2014 to January 2017, and as Senior Director of Business Development beginning in 2016.  According to the complaint, he had over 15 years’ experience in the biotech industry, including eight years in investment banking and a number of years employed in “business and strategic development“ at several other biotechs. In his role at Medivation, he regularly received confidential information involving actual or potential Medivation transactions.

When Panuwat joined the company, he signed a confidentiality agreement, including the insider trading policy, which “prohibited employees from personally profiting from material nonpublic information concerning Medivation by trading in Medivation securities or the securities of another publicly traded company.” In particular, the policy advised that he could receive important confidential information in the course of his employment and that, because of his access to this information, he could “be in a position to profit financially by buying or selling or in some other way dealing in the Company’s securities…or the securities of another publicly traded company, including all significant collaborators, customers, partners, suppliers, or competitors of the Company.… For anyone to use such information to gain personal benefit…is illegal. …” (SEC added emphasis.)

In 2016, Medivation began to explore its strategic options and engaged investment bankers, with whom Panuwat worked closely, accoridng to the complaint. One of the companies the bankers considered to be a close peer to Medivation was Incyte Corporation, given that “both were valuable, mid-cap, oncology-focused companies with a profitable FDA-approved (commercial stage) drug on the U.S. market.”  The complaint indicates that “Panuwat himself noted to the investment bankers that they might want to consider Incyte a comparable company to Medivation.” According to the complaint, Panuwat knew that there were only a few oncology-focused mid-cap biopharmas and that a number of big pharmas were interested in acquiring them.  He also knew that each “acquisition was material to the remaining companies because it made them potentially more valuable acquisition targets and could thus positively affect the stock price of those companies.”  He had seen similar stock price increases in the past.

As the process continued, the SEC alleged, Panuwat was closely engaged in the discussions and received information about the potential acquirers’ due diligence and share-price bids and participated in board meetings regarding strategic alternatives. In August 2016, he learned that Medivation was going to be acquired soon at a significant premium, with Monday, August 22 as the target date for a public announcement. On August 18, 2016, he (and other execs) received an email from Medivation indicating that the ultimate acquirer had “expressed overwhelming interest in acquiring Medivation” and would call later that day to try to resolve final details. Minutes after receiving the email, without pre-clearance or authorization from or disclosure to anyone at Medivation, the SEC charges, “Panuwat misappropriated Medivation’s confidential information by purchasing—from his work computer—out-of-the-money, short-term stock options in Incyte.”  The SEC alleges that he had never before purchased Incyte call options, and that the reason for his purchase was that he “anticipated that Incyte’s stock price would jump within less than a month on public disclosure of the upcoming Medivation acquisition announcement.” 

Medivation entered into the acquisition agreement two days later and announced the deal on August 22, as expected.  Medivation’s stock price climbed 20% and Incyte’s rose by 8%. Panuwat’s profit on his call options amounted to $107,066.

The SEC charged that

“Panuwat learned the foregoing information through his employment at Medivation, and he knew or was reckless in not knowing that the information was material and nonpublic. Panuwat also knew, or was reckless in not knowing, that the information concerning Medivation’s imminent acquisition was material not only to Medivation, but also to Incyte, a peer company in the biopharmaceutical industry that was also publicly-traded, mid-cap, and oncology-focused. Medivation’s undisclosed acquisition would have been viewed by a reasonable investor in Medivation or Incyte as having significantly altered the total mix of information made available. The public announcement of Medivation’s acquisition at a significant premium to its then-current share price would likely have a positive impact on Incyte’s stock price.”

And, the SEC contends, as a result of his “employment, as well as the confidentiality and insider trading policies that he signed, Panuwat owed Medivation a duty to keep this material nonpublic information confidential, and to refrain from trading on Medivation’s confidential information.” According to the SEC, “Panuwat’s undisclosed, self-serving use of Medivation’s information to purchase securities, in breach of his duty of trust and confidence, defrauded Medivation and undermined the integrity of, and investor confidence in, the securities markets.”

The complaint charges Panuwat with committing fraud against Medivation in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, with scienter, in violation of Rule 10b-5. The SEC is seeking an injunction and civil penalties.   

For more information from folks who actually know something about insider trading, see Cooley Securities Litigation + Enforcement blog.

Posted by Cydney Posner