Tuesday, April 18, 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.

March for $cience

The coming March for Science aims “to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments,” according to its organizers. And for biotech companies, it’s also a solid branding opportunity.

Alnylam, Blueprint Medicine, and Warp Drive Bio are among the for-profit entities sponsoring the event and its many satellites. Each pointed out that, without investments in science, it wouldn’t exist, and thus getting behind the marches seemed quite natural.

But by doing so, the companies are wading into the difficult terrain upon which the march’s organizers have already stumbled once or twice. The event is inherently political but avowedly nonpartisan, a delicate if not impossible line to walk. And it has already run into infighting, division, and intermittent social media backlash.

Read more.

Why is Celgene buying penny stocks?

Celgene, famous for its profligate dealmaking, just upped its stake in a little-discussed biotech company with virtually zero fanfare. That’s perhaps because the company in question, Alliqua BioMedical, trades for about 40 cents a share and is currently staring down the prospect of getting booted from the Nasdaq exchange. 

So why does Celgene own 20 percent of it?

It’s kind of a long story, but here’s the short version: Back in 2013, Alliqua licensed some regenerative medicine technology from Celgene. In return, Celgene got a $6 million equity stake in the startup. Three years and a few setbacks later, Dr. J. Craig Venter’s Human Longevity Inc. bought the tech from Alliqua. Celgene, however, kept its stake in the company.

Why is it now raising its investment? The company didn’t respond to a request for comment. Perhaps it’s betting on a big turnaround for a biotech now valued at less than $20 million.

Sponsor content by Cell & Gene Exchange

New and alternative funding opportunities for regenerative medicine

There is growing recognition of the importance of regenerative therapies, but what are the new funding sources for cell and gene therapy and tissue engineering programs? Leaders from the sector, including pharma, patient advocacy groups and legislators, will convene at Cell & Gene Exchange in Washington, DC this May 22–23, to propel field.

What space travel and oncology have in common

When a breast cancer researcher ran into roadblocks in her work, she turned to an unlikely cadre of collaborators for help: scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Now, harnessing technology designed to map other planets and prevent spaceship contamination, Dr. Susan Love believes she's on the verge of understanding a lot more about the human breast — and perhaps making progress against breast cancer.

Read more.

Leafing through the medicinal compound library

From morphine to taxol, plenty of meds have stemmed (get it?) from plants. And plenty more could, if we unravel the complex network of plant genes that actually create these compounds.

A team of geneticists at Vanderbilt is working on just that. Their goal: understanding the web of metabolic pathways that cause plants to synthesize medicinal compounds, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Plants tend to produce interesting chemicals based on their environment — so if they are exposed to salt water, for instance, different genes might be turned on or off. 

Mapping out these genetic pathways in plants could ultimately serve as a novel drug development tool, the researchers say. 

More reads

  • South Korea's Hanmi Pharmaceutical was too slow to disclose a deadly side effect of its cancer drug, authorities say. (FierceBiotech)
  • A look at who stands to gain from Eli Lilly and Incyte's surprise FDA rejection. (TheStreet)
  • Patient groups, backed by pharma, organize to fight Nevada drug pricing bill. (STAT Plus)
  • Roivant Sciences' Enzyvant picked up a pair of FDA designations for its rare disease therapy. (Endpoints
  • Theranos settles with CMS, agrees to pay a $30,000 fine. (Press release)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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