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The Readout Damian Garde

Your guide to a big earnings day

Tuesday was chock-full of biotech earnings, from which some answers to burning questions emerged (at least for one quarter).

  • Biktarvy, the most important HIV drug in Gilead Sciences' HIV quiver, delivered $1.1 billion in second-quarter sales, easily topping Wall Street expectations. Can Biktarvy keep Gilead’s dominant HIV position intact? Yes, it surely can. Also: Yescarta sales totaled $120 million — an indication that cancer cell therapy is taking hold.
  • Over at Amgen, earnings were on the tepid side but notably, sales of the new-ish migraine drug Aimovig were $83 million and ahead of Street consensus. Aimovig is one of Amgen’s growth products, so this is good news. The bad: Neulasta sales in the quarter disappointed, hit harder by biosimilar competition. On the R&D front, Amgen disclosed tumor “responses” in colon cancer patients treated with its closely followed KRAS inhibitor AMG 510. That’s a significant and positive update from the drug’s debut at ASCO back in June.
  • Celgene: The Bristol-Myers Squibb merger is on track to close at the end of the year or early in 2020 concurrent with the divestment of the psoriatic arthritis drug Otezla. But Celgene hinted that a highly anticipated readout from a Phase 3 clinical trial of multiple myeloma CAR-T bb2121 (partnered with Bluebird Bio) might not be ready in time for the American Society of Hematology annual meeting in December.

UniQure’s strange summer has settled


The gene therapy company UniQure hasn’t announced what you’d call major news in months, and yet its stock price has bounced around all summer in what was a tidy illustration of how biotech companies are so often at the whim of things they cannot control.

It started June 4, when UniQure CEO Matt Kapusta bowed out of an investor conference, which, in the minds of Wall Street’s most magical thinkers, is a harbinger of a buyout, and thus shares rose. However, it soon became clear that Kapusta had a scheduling conflict of the non-multibillion-dollar variety, and things settled down. 

But only until June 16, when Bloomberg reported that UniQure was considering a sale “amid interest from pharmaceutical companies looking to expand in gene therapy,” news on which shares rose. Then the narrative twisted. As all this played out, Roche seemed to struggle to get FTC approval for Spark Therapeutics, a UniQure competitor, and Wall Street wondered: Could that scare off the mystery moneychangers lining up to buy UniQure?

Cut to the present, and UniQure is right back where it started. The company, which remains independent, has gained and lost more than $600 million in value since June, all without announcing what you’d call major news.

Biopharma may yet get an alum in Congress

Last year, when former Celgene CEO Bob Hugin ran for Senate, we wondered whether anyone from the drug industry had ever won a seat in Congress. The answer, so far as we could tell from federal archives, was no. (To be fair, Herman Metz, elected in 1912, was a “manufacturer and importer of dyestuffs, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals”).

That brings us to Arati Kreibich, who is running for a House seat in Hugin’s native New Jersey. She’s a neuroscientist who previously worked at Teva and EMD Serono.

But that’s where the Hugin similarities end. Kreibich is a Democrat running to unseat a member of her own party, the centrist Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who beat a seven-term Republican incumbent in 2016. Kreibich is in favor of “Medicare for All,” a proposal that would allow the government to negotiate directly with drug makers over the price of medicine, something the industry is resolutely against.

Her odds of joining Metz in the pantheon of ex-pharma lawmakers look a little long. Kreibich’s district, New Jersey’s fifth, went to President Trump in 2016, and Gottheimer, who opposes Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, claimed a narrow victory after a bruising campaign.

What do unicorns owe us?

A thing about Theranos is that while it was doing all the alleged frauds that made it famous, it was also not publishing the details of its allegedly fraudulent technology in scientific journals. Had it done so, goes a fairly compelling argument, someone would have sniffed out the scam.

But is publishing your science actually important for startups? According to a new paper from researchers at Stanford University, not when the metric is money. Looking at unicorns — private companies with valuations exceeding $1 billion — the researchers found no correlation between how much they’re worth and how many papers they’ve published.

The unquestioned assumption is that publishing your work is good and that “stealth research,” as the authors call it, is bad. But as the medicinal chemist Derek Lowe points out, since when did publishing become a primary function of fledgling companies whose limited resources are probably better spent on pipettes than peer review? And, going back to Theranos, there's no guarantee the process of open science would have saved the day if the company had published. Peer review is a good way to spot inconsistencies in science, but it’s not always adept at catching outright lies, which people tell all the time.

More reads

  • ‘Show me the data!’: We asked experts to pick apart a clinic’s claims about ketamine. (STAT)
  • Gilead, Novartis cancer therapies losing patients to experimental treatments. (Reuters)
  • With mini-placentas and mini-brains, scientists try to unravel the roots of psychiatric disorders. (STAT)
  • How Moderna Therapeutics is using AI. (Business Insider)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Wednesday, July 31, 2019


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