Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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.

New York’s latest bid to become a biotech bedrock

The well-heeled land barons at Alexandria Real Estate are advancing the cause of biotech in New York City, opening a startup incubator that aims to make the seat of modern capitalism more hospitable to drug development.
Alexandria’s effort is called LaunchLabs, and it’s a 15,000-square-foot space in Manhattan that will rent out lab and office space for as little as $1,995 a month, Xconomy reports. The idea echoes ventures like LabCentral and the Cambridge Innovation Center, each of which have midwifed scores of startups in greater Boston.
But Alexandria’s plan won’t address a vexing real estate question: Where do you go when you’re not a sapling, not yet a Celgene? 
Startups in the awkward stage between infancy and adolescence often struggle to find the space they need on a budget they can manage, forcing many to either break up their operations or decamp to the suburbs. It’s a real problem, and one that greater Boston hasn’t solved, either. 

Feng Zhang has mastered the art of saying nothing

When the name of Broad Institute scientist Feng Zhang ended up on a $12.2 million Form D this month, people naturally wondered just what the CRISPR pioneer was up to.
We cornered Zhang yesterday at the Atlantic Pulse health care conference to ask, and he said what you probably expected him to: It’s too early to talk about. What he did divulge is that the company, called Arbor Biotechnologies, is using “deep learning” and “high-throughput” technology to build a “platform.”

If that sounds like a salad of buzzphrases meant to ward off nosy reporters, well, it’s all you get for now.
“Stay tuned,” Zhang said.

Why is a small biotech company buying bus ads?

(Sage Therapeutics)

If you've spent time in Boston recently, you might wonder why a small biotech company with no approved drugs is paying to blanket buses and wrap trains with an awareness ad about postpartum depression.

The company, Sage Therapeutics, says it's working to spark a conversation about a condition that often goes unmentioned, STAT's Megan Thielking reports, as feelings of guilt and shame keep many women quiet.

Some patients and clinicians welcome the effort. But others said the campaign is a missed opportunity to shift the focus to health care providers, who are often remiss to bring up the issue of PPD in the first place. And one said the ad's imagery, featuring women with pacifiers in their mouths, "infantilizes" a serious condition.

Read more.

Congress has a long way to go when it comes to drug pricing

For any biopharma types spooked by the prospect of a Congressional crackdown on drug prices, rest easy: Your lawmakers are still trying to discern heads from tails.
At yesterday’s Senate committee meeting on the topic, the questions were more “What’s happening?” than “How do we fix this?” — or, worse, “Why are you gouging my constituents?” Most of those queries came from Republicans, as many Democrats flatly refused to participate. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren explained that choice this way: “It is insane to have a bipartisan hearing on drug prices while the GOP is writing a secret bill to take away prescription drug benefits.”)
But Warren and company will get another chance: This is the first of three planned hearings on drug pricing, an issue that faces no risk of going away any time soon.

What's $8.4 billion between friends?

Today in Alexion Pharmaceuticals: The company is considering just plain writing off its acquisition of Synageva BioPharma, an $8.4 billion deal that analysts view as somewhere between ill-advised and historically disastrous.

If you're just catching up, Alexion is under new management after a combination of the Synageva fallout and some troubling — though not illegal, according to the company — sales practices led to an overhaul of top brass.

New CEO Ludwig Hantson, most recently of Baxalta, has promised to turn things around. Step one was ditching a bunch of executives (and poaching Biogen's long-time CFO). Step two might be burying his predecessors' multibillion-dollar mistake.

More reads

  • Should every patient have a genetic analysis to map their drug responses? A new study seeks the answer. (STAT Plus)
  • Amgen may face tougher insurance coverage for its cholesterol drug. (STAT Plus)
  • Amid the deluge of data at ASCO, some promising signals for personalized medicine. (LifeSciVC)
  • NIH researchers are trying to turn a targeted cancer drug into a muscular dystrophy therapy. (NIH)

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Thanks for reading! And don't forget to sign up for our one-week-only BIO in 30 Seconds newsletter, with dispatches from the BIO convention floor in San Diego. Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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