Friday, February 23, 2018

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.

Get a load of this tiny heart



That's a 3-D human heart organoid that can actually, like, pump, which, aside from being scientifically neat, could play a role in drug development in the future.

As STAT's Sharon Begley reports, the little organ, invented by NovoHeart, has shown promise in its ability to identify drugs that have deleterious cardiac side effects, suggesting it could be an intermediary step between lab tests and animal studies for therapies in development.

And the scientists behind NovoHeart, led by Mount Sinai's Kevin Costa, have fashioned heart organoids that exhibit the symptoms of cardiac conditions that can't be replicated in animals, potentially creating a way to scientists to study the disease's characteristics in the lab.

Read more.

Alex Azar gets a glowing, if premature, review

Alex Azar's been on the job for less than a month, but President Trump is convinced his new health and human services secretary has already managed a feat that's long bedeviled politicians and a host of other health care experts: lowering drug prices. 

"Secretary Alex Azar, who is really setting the world on fire now, huh, with your lowering of prescription drug prices and a lot of other things you're doing, and we appreciate it very much," Trump said, introducing him at a meeting on gun violence and school safety on Thursday. "A lot of people are seeing already what's happening, especially the lowering of the price of health care." 

"Great going, Alex," he added.

In reality, while Azar helped to roll out a series of proposals within the Trump administration's broader budget request for fiscal year 2019 that would tweak the way Medicare and Medicaid pay for certain drugs, none of those policies has moved forward in the week since the announcement, either regulatorily or legislatively. The only other major action HHS has taken during Azar's short tenure is also still a proposal and it focuses on short-term health insurance plans, not drugs. 

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If you missed it, come learn about CRISPR


As the chart above indicates, some people have been making a lot of money on the promise of gene editing this past year. So what's it all about?

If you're CRISPR-curious or zinc finger-inclined, you can watch as STAT senior science writer Sharon Begley and national biotech columnist Adam Feuerstein spend about an hour diving into what the major gene editing companies are up to and what the future has in store for their pipelines. There are charts and graphs and lots of mostly correct pronunciations.

Tune in on STAT Plus.

J&J is poaching all the good young oncologists, according to data

A company called hiQ Labs applied “deep, proprietary analytics to online public employee data” — they looked at LinkedIn — and deduced that among major drug companies, Johnson & Johnson is attracting the best young scientists in immuno-oncology.

The study looked at the LinkedIn profiles of 65,000 workers at 10 big drug makers to make this deduction, vetting employees based on résumés, awards, and publications. By that metric, J&J beat out AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, and Roche.

If you accept the methodology — which could unfairly exclude scientists who choose not to list their every of their accomplishments on LinkedIn — perhaps the more interesting question is whether these companies can actually retain their little IO starlets. It’s great to attract smart employees, but drug development timelines are long, so you’re going to want them to stick around for a while if you want to get a measurable benefit from their talents.

The good news is it apparently doesn’t matter who runs your company: hiQ Labs found no correlation between employee retention and a CEO’s rating on Glassdoor.

More reads

  • ‘It’s breathtaking’: A Chinese biotech CEO weighs in on policy changes remaking China’s FDA. (STAT Plus)
  • Sangamo in $3 billion gene-editing deal with Gilead. (Reuters)
  • Pharma's $50 billion tax windfall for investors. (Axios)
  • The gut-brain axis: Is intestinal inflammation a silent driver of Parkinson’s disease? (Nature)

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