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Readout @ JPMDamian Garde

Hello from #JPM20! This is your afternoon check-in, live from San Francisco, recapping (or, in this case, precapping) everything interesting from biotech's annual convocation. (To relive 20 years of these confabs, we recommend The ghosts of JPMs past.) Follow STAT's reporters on the ground: @adamfeuerstein, @damiangarde, @rebeccadrobbins@erbrod@pharmalot, and @matthewherper.

Whither M&A?

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(Adam Feuerstein/STAT)

Evercore ISI analyst Josh Schimmer crunched some biotech M&A numbers and found that over the past five years, big deals tended to happen in January more than any other month. Well, JPM is about to start, it’s almost halfway through January 2020, and the biotech M&A crickets are chirping. In fact, as STAT's Adam Feuerstein noted last week, some of biotech’s buzzed-about acquisition targets have already been crossed off the “deal imminent” list.

Maybe all will be well and good tomorrow morning? If not, start to panic. 

The word of the day is ‘equivalar’

And it comes to us from EQRx, a biotech startup using the occasion of JPM to announce itself to the world. The plan at EQRx is not to edit the human genome, reprogram immune cells, or otherwise test the limits of scientific possibility. The idea is to bust pharma monopolies with cheap alternatives to blockbuster drugs, a proposition that’s arguably more radical than reinventing biology.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, that’s where the word equivalar comes in. Alexis Borisy, the former Third Rock Ventures partner who founded EQRx, wants to quickly invent drugs that are similar to existing blockbusters, equally effective, and, most important, less expensive. Thanks to a cadre of top tech and biotech investors, Borisy has $200 million to prove it out.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years creating breakthrough new medicines,” he said. “We’ve ratcheted up the prices on them ever higher, frankly, because we can. And the reality is we can create a lot of these great new medicines, and turn that into a viable business charging a lot less for them. This is not fantasy world. This is something that can be done.”

Read more.

A Fouse-ian debut

Jackie Fouse is the former CFO and president of Celgene, so she’s no stranger to the podium chats and investor scrums that define the JPM experience. But bright and early Monday morning, Fouse gets to check off one more item from the JPM bucket-list: Present for the first time as the CEO of Agios Pharmaceuticals. 

As STAT's Adam Feuerstein reports, Fouse is unveiling a new six-year plan for Agios to double the number of approved medicines it sells from two to four, while also expanding into new indications and deepening its pipeline. Fouse will also use her financial acumen to trim Agios’ spending with the goal of becoming cash-flow positive by the end of 2025. 

“Agios has accomplished a lot in 10 years, so this is not a situation where things are broken and I need to fix them,” said Fouse “I want to allow the foundational science of this company and its commitment to patients continue to take us places, but we need to be more disciplined and focused.”

Read more.

When representatives from Biogen and the FDA share the stage ...

Back in November at the STAT Summit in Cambridge, Mass., Biogen’s top scientist Al Sandrock nearly dared FDA regulators not to approve the company’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug. So we were curious if that might come up when Sandrock took the stage alongside the FDA’s drug cop Dr. Janet Woodcock this morning at a regulation conference on the sidelines of JPM.

It did not come up — Biogen’s drug, aducanumab, wasn’t even mentioned during the panel discussion — but Sandrock did use his time on stage to advocate a few intriguing ideas to improve clinical trials. He called for the establishment of “measurement centers” next door to hospitals, which would be staffed with data analysts who would make sure that drug trial data are being collected rigorously and properly.

Sandrock also called for less reliance on the sort of performance tests that are conducted every few months in clinical trials. Performance on those exams can be influenced by so many factors, such as whether patients got a good night’s sleep before taking the test, Sandrock said. Instead, the clinical research community should shift towards measures that come from sensors that can detect how patients are faring in their daily life, he said.

Which led us to muse: It’s a safe bet that we’d be having a different conversation about aducanumab had the patients in Biogen’s controversial trials been wearing sensors.

More reads

  • The FDA is in trouble. Here’s how to fix it. (New York Times)
  • Two big drug flops show how health care economics have changed. (Bloomberg)
  • Paging Dr. Google: How the tech giant is laying claim to health data (Wall Street Journal)
  • Drug-discovery software company Schrödinger files for IPO. (MarketWatch)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

STAT

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