Monday, January 30, 2017

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of the latest in biotech. To stay on top of the latest Trump administration actions affecting science, health, and medicine, please sign up for Trump in 30, a free weekday newsletter.

Where does pharma stand on Trump’s immigration ban?

Hard to say. With one exception — a tweet from Allergan CEO Brent Saunders — the world’s biggest drug makers have been silent on the issue that dominated news coverage all weekend.

This comes in stark contrast to the worlds of venture capital and biotech startups, where leading lights took to Twitter to affirm their support for those affected, condemn the executive order, and, in the words of NaviMed Capital's Bijan Salehizadeh, call out the “deafening silence” from the likes of PhRMA and BIO.

Tech giants haven't been so shy: The likes of Microsoft, Google, GE, and Twitter have all at least expressed public concern for their affected employees, though not all criticized the executive order. But Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and their peers have done nothing of the sort.

The prevailing theory among observers of the industry boils down to one word: fear. Pharma is still feeling out its place in Trump’s America, to say the least, and many are still smarting from that “getting away with murder” crack from earlier this month. Might executives be playing it safe — staying mum on immigration to avoid rankling a president who doesn’t seem terribly keen on the industry to begin with?

That may work in the short term. But it remains entirely possible than the industry, already struggling with public perception, is sitting out an opportunity to make itself appear human.

What're your thoughts? Please email us your views on Trump's action, the protests, and the conspicuous silence from big drug makers.

On Iran's burgeoning biotech scene

Trump's immigration ban could hamper scientific progress around the word, according to a scathing petition signed by more than 4,000 academics, including multiple Nobel laureates.

Iran, in particular, has a vibrant biotechnology sector, which is why it makes no sense to cut off access to the country, says Hakim Djaballah, an Algerian-American biotech executive in New York with close ties to Iran. Read more on STAT Plus. 

And for the view from a postdoc who's appalled by the executive action, check out the latest Under the Microscope column from STAT contributor Sara Whitlock.

More earnings!

Last week’s biopharma earnings bonanza was, to be kind, not great...what with Biogen lowering its outlook, AbbVie missing estimates, and Bristol-Myers Squibb turning in a nightmare performance in which malfunctioning microphones were only, like, the third worst aspect.

But this week begins anew. Due up are pharma giants Pfizer, Roche, Eli Lilly, and Merck, plus smaller stalwarts Amgen, Novo Nordisk, and Eisai.

Each has its own challenges and advantages headed into the new year, but the same elephant is in every room: drug prices. Expect to hear questions and (possibly circuitous) answers on that topic all week.

A case for increasing drug regulation

Do profit-hungry biopharma companies expose patients to unnecessary risk when they’re enrolled in clinical trials? Jonathan Kimmelman and Carole Federico, bioethicists at McGill University, think so — arguing in Nature that drugs need to be far more carefully vetted before ever being tested in humans.

“We must abandon the fiction that current oversight systems are adequate to protect volunteers in first-in-human trials or to steward scientific efforts,” they say. 

The idea is to enforce more regulation, not less — a philosophy that starkly contrasts with the viewpoints of some would-be FDA commissioners. We'll see which argument sticks…

More reads

  • A new way to monitor lab rats, by tracking their every breath. (STAT Plus)
  • Geneticist Michael Eisen is mounting a bid for the US Senate. (Nature)
  • The latest controversy at the Park Slope Co-op: biotech stocks. (Wall Street Journal)
Correction: Last week, we incorrectly attributed a story from Nature to Science. We regret the error and in no way meant to further strain relations between the two publications.

Have a news tip or comment you want to send us?

Send us an email

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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