Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of the latest in biotech. For more in-depth coverage of biopharma, subscribe to STAT Plus. On Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

The Holy Grail of inscrutable explanations

Turns out those Grail departures we talked about yesterday are the result of “a reorganization to focus on nearer-term, unanticipated product opportunities from our R&D organization,” a spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News.

If those words, their syntax, or their semiotic context mean anything to you, perhaps you’d be kind enough to tell us what exactly is going on at Grail.

But absent a Rosetta Stone for corporatespeak, there’s at least one interesting thread: All of the departures — including the CEO, the CSO, and two scientists reported by BuzzFeed — were Google alumni.

That tracks with a common tea-leaf-reading as to why former CEO Jeff Huber left after just 18 months: He was a Google-trained tech expert, not a scientist, and Grail is a science company. But here’s what doesn’t fit: If you’re shifting focus to, ahem, “nearer-term, unanticipated product opportunities,” wouldn’t you want a product-friendly Googler at the helm?

Oh and Grail, which has $1 billion, is reportedly raising more money, as one does.

Still no special sauce — or shake — for Alzheimer's

Souvenaid, a nutritional drink sold in the UK as a means to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, does not appear to do so, according to a new study of 311 patients published in Lancet Neurology. The strawberry- or vanilla-flavored beverage consists of a mix of fatty acids, vitamins, and other nutrients that have no discernible effect on the primary endpoint, a neuropsychological test battery score.

The study authors do, however, call for further research. And the drink maker takes that as a victory.

"We are pleased that this adds to the body of evidence for Souvenaid and we remain committed to ongoing and further clinical research,” a spokeswoman for Nutricia told the BBC.

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A Twitter-inspired fundraise

Twitter may be a bastion of internet trolls small and big league, but it's proved quite handy for Bay Area biotech Perlara.

CEO Ethan Perlstein tells us that a Twitter exchange with billionaire Mark Cuban led, ultimately, to investment from the reality TV star in Perlara's new $7.6 million "skinny" Series A round. Perlstein educated Cuban on the intricacies of tech transfer, he says, and Cuban in turn asked to see a pitch deck.

"It was like your typical Shark Tank exchange, except via email," Perlstein said. 

Get ready to ASH

We’re just weeks away from the biotech-upending conference known as ASH, where reams of data and miles of PowerPoints tend to move stocks and analyst estimates alike.

And today’s the day we get a peek at what’s to come. STAT’s Adam Feuerstein has the scoop on who’s presenting what at ASH, with updates on CAR-T and rare blood diseases. Check back in later this morning as the news rolls in from the likes of Gilead Sciences, Celgene, Novartis, Bluebird Bio, and Juno Therapeutics.

Halloween happened in biotech


This movie's marketing tie-ins have perhaps jumped the shark. (Johannes Fruehauf/LabCentral)

Those are the many entrepreneurs of biotech accelerator LabCentral, rendered as Minions in the name of Halloween, a holiday also celebrated by drug-hunting vikings, NFL players, and tie-clad cats at Nimbus Therapeutics.

Did your biopharma employer bend the rules of workplace decorum in a similar fashion? Send us the evidence if so.

Halloween at STAT was comparatively staid. Meghana did not dress up this year, and neither did Damian, as his desired "Sexy Ian Read" costume was tragically sold out.

More reads

  • Can the feds nail the fentanyl billionaire? (Forbes)
  • Bad luck bites a biotech analyst. (Wall Street Journal)
  • AstraZeneca wins early U.S. approval for blood cancer drug. (Reuters)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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