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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

STAT's new batch of Wunderkinds

STAT has picked a brand new crop of Wunderkinds, honoring 26 of health care’s most promising up-and-comers. Take Sebastien Weyn, a bioinformatician at Stoke Therapeutics who analyzes how various genetic sequences can ultimately create the same protein — with plans to ultimately build drugs to target these proteins. 

Or Lauren Riva, a scientist at the California Institute for Biomedical Research who is helping hunt for Covid-19 treatments — scouring one of the world’s largest drug libraries to find compounds that might combat the virus. After years of studying antiviral drugs, she feels like her work’s coming to fruition: 

“I’m finally being able to apply what I’ve done for many years and seeing that it can be really useful,” she told STAT. “Even though I’ve been sleep-deprived and not taken even half a day off in the last nine months, that’s what’s keeping me going." 

Check 'em all out here, or watch our video introducing five of these whiz kids here.

HHS cautions drug makers against kickbacks

Federal watchdogs are warning drug makers against offering kickbacks — saying the high-paying speaking deals often offered to physicians to help boost prescriptions “may be subject to criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement actions.”

The Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services is issuing this alert after several high-profile instances of kickbacks — particularly in regards to the opioid crisis, STAT’s Ed Silverman writes.

“We’re not saying all payments under speaker programs are a problem or violate the law,” the OIG’s chief counsel said. But “companies really need to think about whether payments to prescribers or physicians introduce a risk of violating anti-kickback statutes.” 

Read more.

This keeps supply chain experts up at night

Supply chain hurdles are a major concern for Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers. These shots will require refrigeration at very precise temperatures — which will likely prove challenging in many parts of the world. Beyond needs for dry ice and special temperature sensors, there are other worries: like making sure the vaccines aren't counterfeited, stolen, or diverted. 

“What I lose sleep over at night is making sure we can send product to lesser-developed countries. That it gets where it’s going,” said Remo Colarusso, a top supply chain exec at Johnson & Johnson. 

Read more.

There’s something fishy about fish oil trials

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association shows that AstraZeneca’s Epanova, a fish-oil-derived medicine, doesn’t do anything at all for heart patients.

The study has spawned a frothing debate about what this means for another fish oil drug, Vascepa, which is approved to reduce heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular death. Vascepa proponents say the reason it works is because Epanova mixed two different components of fish oil, known as EPA and DHA, whereas Vascepa is just EPA. But the Epanova researchers argue the difference in outcomes is that the placebo used in a clinical trial of Vascepa, mineral oil, may have actually made patients worse. Vascepa is made by Amarin Corp.

That discussion shows no sign of ending soon, but some prominent cardiologists are backing the “mineral oil was bad” theory. “We do experiments in order to occasionally be surprised,” Darrel Francis, a professor of cardiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London, told STAT. “Unfortunately, mineral oil gave us a nasty surprise. That's life, and it is the essence of science to accept it and move on.”

Read more.

The 'nocebo' effect observed in statins

Statins may have gotten an unfair deal: Side effects attributed to these cholesterol-lowering drugs are showing up in patients taking a placebo, according to a new study presented at this week’s virtual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association. About 60 people completed the study, which involved four months of statins, four months of placebo, and four months of neither — tracking their symptoms all the while.
 
Researchers found that 90% of symptoms were reported when participants took either statins or placebo — and they needed to stop taking the placebo pills due to intolerable side effects as often as they needed to stop the actual statins. This could point to statins causing a psychological, rather than pharmacological, effect in the volunteers.

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Damian

Monday, November 16, 2020

STAT

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