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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Coronavirus’s target might point to a Covid-19 treatment

Scientists now understand how the novel coronavirus worms its way into human cells. But a closer look at that infiltration has led researchers to what could be a path to treating Covid-19, one that would protect patients from the worst symptoms while their bodies clear the virus.

Coronavirus latches onto an enzyme called ACE2, which plays a role in mediating vascular function. When patients get Covid-19, ACE2 can’t do its crucial job of producing an anti-inflammatory peptide, which might explain the often deadly immune reaction the disease brings about. What if, researchers wondered, you could inject patients with that peptide to correct for the coronavirus’s effects?

That’s where Constant Therapeutics, a small, private biotech company, enters the picture. Constant had been developing an intravenous version of the peptide for a few rare diseases before Covid-19 came along. As the pandemic spread, the company linked up with like-minded academics. Now it’s poised to test the idea in clinical trials.

Read more.

Flummoxing views on aducanumab

The health care analysts at J.P. Morgan conducted a poll of Alzheimer’s doctors to gauge their feelings about Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug candidate aducanumab.

"Based on the data derived from Biogen’s twin, Phase 3 studies, should the FDA approve aducanumab?” asked J.P. Morgan. Two-thirds of the responding docs said no, do not approve this Alzheimer’s drug.

J.P. Morgan then asked, if the FDA approves aducanumab anyway, will you prescribe it to Alzheimer’s patients? The answer: Yes! Polled doctors said that, two years after approval, they'd prescribe aducanumab to about 40% of their patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s.

What do these contradictory responses mean? The need for an effective Alzheimer’s medicine is enormous; any treatment that might offer a sliver of efficacy, no matter how small, will likely be approved and widely used.

The amyloid debate plays out at BIO

Speaking of Alzheimer’s drug development, you may not be surprised to learn that Biogen isn’t alone in seeing remaining glimmers of hope when it comes to the amyloid hypothesis.

Speaking on an Alzheimer’s session at this week’s virtual BIO convention, Susan Catalano, the co-founder and CSO of Cognition Therapeutics, said her company is still indirectly targeting it for drug development, in part because she thinks other researchers didn’t appreciate the different forms the plaque-forming substance can take.

Others on the panel, STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, suggested it was time to move on. Michal Preminger, the head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s eastern North American division, told viewers: “We see the industry recognizing — with some humility — the need to look back at the fundamentals.”

Read more.

A word about pricing of Covid-19 vaccines

Even before a Covid-19 vaccine has proven to be safe and effective, the debate over how should a vaccine should be priced is roaring. 

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, does not, at last check, regulate drug prices. But he said he does know that it's dicey for the government to try to force the industry's hand.

“I have a lot of experience over the years dealing with pharmaceutical companies in which we’re trying to develop an intervention,” Fauci said during a session yesterday at BIO. “And the one thing that is clear is that if you try to enforce things on a company that has multiple, different opportunities to do different things, they will walk away.”

More on the session from Bloomberg Law here.

More reads

  • Merck’s Julie Gerberding, a ‘vaccine optimist,’ on Covid-19 and what comes next. (STAT)
  • Short-sellers set their sights on surging Asia biotech stocks. (Bloomberg)
  • A judge rules AbbVie isn’t ‘immunized’ from antitrust claims over its Humira patent dealings. (STAT Plus)
  • Medical device startup raises almost $44M to advance a less-invasive treatment for fluid in the brain. (Boston Globe)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

STAT

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