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The Readout Damian Garde

Sage’s big bet came up negative

Sage Therapeutics’ antidepressant pill, a drug long considered to have blockbuster potential, failed to distinguish itself from placebo in a late-stage trial.

The treatment, SAGE-217, led to a 12.6-point improvement on a measure of depression, while placebo charted an 11.6-point benefit. The difference was not statistically significant. Sage’s share price, which has reached above $150 on the promise of 217, could fall as much as 50%, analysts have said.

Despite the drug missing its primary endpoint, Sage CEO Jeff Jonas said the study is “directionally supportive” of the idea that 217 could work in the three other depression trials currently enrolling. “It’s like winning the silver medal,” Jonas said.

Read more.

Lilly’s $8 billion Loxo deal turned into an acqui-hire

First Eli Lilly paid $8 billion for Loxo Oncology. Now the pharma giant is remaking its cancer division in Loxo’s image, putting that company’s former leaders in charge and focusing on targeted treatments.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, this isn’t usually how things go. Pharma companies buy biotechs for the drugs, not the people, and founders usually cash out and move on to the next thing. But after the Loxo deal closed, Lilly saw in the smaller company a fresh approach to oncology. And the Loxo team saw an opportunity seldom afforded to entrepreneurs: the chance to put a Big Pharma balance sheet to work.

“When we look at ourselves in the mirror and we look at what we accomplished as an independent company, we worked on fewer things with a smaller team,” said Jacob Van Naarden, a former Loxo executive joining Lilly. “The question we asked ourselves is how successful will we be doing more things all at once with more people?” 

Read more.

A bull-bear debate ends in favor of the optimists

Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, a hotly debated biotech company, proved its many doubters wrong yesterday when the company’s lupus treatment met its goals in a pivotal trial.

As STAT’s Adam Feuerstein reports, Aurinia’s drug demonstrated a response rate of 41% after one year, significantly beating the 22.5% seen in the control arm. There was one death reported in the drug arm compared to five deaths in the control group, a key finding that will help dispel concerns about the treatment’s safety.

Aurinia’s stock price doubled on the news, rewarding the company’s faithful investors and stinging the many who were betting against it.

Read more.

Get ready for ASH

Will Bristol-Myers Squibb be a player in CAR-T? Can CRISPR treat cancer? And could gene therapy cure hemophilia B?

We’re going to learn more on all of the above this weekend at the American Society of Hematology meeting, which begins Saturday in Orlando. Among the big draws are data on JCAR17, a CAR-T invented by Juno Therapeutics and acquired by Celgene that is now key to Bristol-Myers’s future in the space. We’ll also see data from Tmunity, a company using CRISPR to craft cancer-killing cells, and an update from Uniqure on what could be the first one-time treatment for hemophilia B.

STAT is sending Adam Feuerstein to the Magic Kingdom to cover all that and more, and you can read his reportage by signing up for our free ASH newsletter.

More reads

  • Problems with medicines may be vastly underreported to the FDA. (STAT Plus)
  • Will sky-high drug prices spur the U.S. to use an obscure power over patents? (BioPharma Dive)
  • How Scientific American ended up at the center of a massive Twitter war. (Slate)
  • A monthly birth control pill? Experiment in pigs opens door to more trials. (Associated Press)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Thursday, December 5, 2019


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