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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

As health care grows increasingly virtual, tech giants and startups alike are racing to develop tools that can monitor health and even diagnose disease from a distance. The latest STAT Report delves into the field of remote patient monitoring, with perspectives from industry leaders and forecasts of the future. Buy it here.

Moderna is getting into the flu business

Moderna, which is racing to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, has set its sights on another lucrative opportunity: the multibillion-dollar business of trying to prevent seasonal influenza.

At its annual R&D presentation happening later today, Moderna will announce that it’s going to start developing vaccines for seasonal flu, as the Boston Globe reports. The company is betting its mRNA approach can create faster, more effective inoculations. Each year, flu vaccines tend to be between 40% and 60% effective, depending on which strain emerges. Moderna believes it can quickly develop better options, using the same technology that allowed it to produce a Covid-19 vaccine candidate in a matter of weeks.

It’s a major opportunity. Sanofi, which supplies about 40% of the world’s flu vaccines, makes roughly $2 billion a year doing so. But it’s a business that requires global scale generally reserved for major pharmaceutical companies. Moderna’s future in the field would likely depend on resounding success in Covid-19, which is by no means guaranteed, followed by a worldwide expansion.

Maybe the key to Illumina’s future was right there all along

Illumina, the sequencing giant whose flagging revenue has alarmed investors, needs to diversify its business. Grail, the well-funded developer of a cancer blood test that just so happened to spin out of Illumina, just might be the ticket.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, Illumina is in talks about purchasing Grail, which has raised about $2 billion from private investors since 2015. The discussions, first reported by Bloomberg, are in early stages and could well fall apart.

On the one hand, buying Grail makes sense: Cancer blood tests, often called liquid biopsies, could have a bright future in oncology, promising to detect tumors without the need for invasive tissue sampling. That would help Illumina diversify beyond the business of selling sequencers. At the same time, it might not be the most efficient use of capital. Grail, which filed to go public just last week, has seen its valuation rise to nearly $4 billion since 2015, meaning Illumina would be paying a premium for something it used to own. Illumina’s share price fell about 8% on the news.

Read more.

A well-funded pharma foe is back for campaign 2020

Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, the drug pricing advocacy group backed by the billionaire activists Laura and John Arnold, announced its first 2020 target today: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a longtime pharmaceutical industry ally.

In a seven-figure ad barrage, the group will cast Tillis as "uniquely bad on the issue of drug prices," citing his history of accepting major campaign funding from drug industry PACs, authoring legislation to help drug companies protect their intellectual property, and his opposition to bipartisan drug pricing legislation in the Senate. 

The radio, digital, and TV ads will, of course, also feature a patient voice speaking out against Tillis: that of Steven Hadfield, a Tar Heel whose cancer drugs run him $132,000 each year.

Biogen is now that much more reliant on a controversial Alzheimer’s treatment

Yesterday, a federal court invalidated the last remaining patent to Biogen’s blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, opening the path to a multitude of generics and underlining just how much of the company’s future rests in the hands of the FDA.

The court ruling follows a previous decision that allowed Mylan to launch the first generic of Tecfidera, which accounts for nearly a quarter of Biogen’s revenue. The latest decision clears the way for numerous other generics companies to launch versions of their own, which could swiftly erode the market and cut significantly into Biogen’s business, according Baird analyst Brian Skorney.

The news, which was generally expected, highlights how much of Biogen’s future rides on aducanumab, a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease now awaiting FDA approval. The therapy’s supporting evidence has been deeply controversial among experts, and the FDA’s final decision, expected by March, will determine whether Biogen can look forward to blockbuster returns or a painful reorganization.

More reads

  • Biden-aligned group outlines potential Day 1 drug pricing actions. (STAT Plus)
  • Metacrine raises $85 million but falls 10% on its IPO debut. (MarketWatch)
  • A vaccine alone won’t stop Covid-19. We also need a trusted plan for it. (STAT)
  • Turkey begins Phase III trials of Chinese coronavirus vaccine. (Reuters)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Thursday, September 17, 2020

STAT

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