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The Readout

Amazon vs. PBMs, or Amazon + PBMs?

Amazon's gambit into the pharmaceutical space was confirmed by its acquisition of the online pharmacy PillPack. But what will it do about that business of PBMs?

Jeff Bezos has every reason to be rankled by pharmaceutical benefit mangers; they did, after all, block Amazon's efforts to disrupt the drug industry back in the late 1990s. And they may still be standing in the way. 

We spoke to industry experts about Amazon’s options for dealing with PBMs. Each strategy carries big risks and potential rewards. The route the tech giant chooses, STAT's Casey Ross notes, will determine whether the convoluted U.S. pharmacy sector is in for a major change, or minor adjustments.

Read more. 

Industry's in-kind support for prion disease

Sonia Vallabh, the Broad Institute researcher who rose to relative fame for feverishly working with her husband to find a cure for her condition, a prion disease, has forged an interesting industry partnership: She’s been receiving strands of RNA from San Diego’s Ionis Pharmaceuticals that may serve as treatments. 

In Vallabh's disease, which is called fatal familial insomnia, cellular proteins don't fold properly, leading to neurodegeneration. The antisense oligonucleotides from Ionis can help change how proteins are handled in cells.

Ionis has already commercialized therapies based on similar RNA sequences, including Spinraza, the spinal muscular atrophy drug developed in conjunction with Biogen that was approved two Decembers back. And Vallabh and her husband, Eric Minikel, are optimistic in this case as well: 

“There’s real hope now of getting a treatment into trials within maybe the next five years,” Minikel told STAT. 

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A next-gen Daraprim, at least in terms of pricing

Not all drug makers have learned from the likes of Martin Shkreli: A small Colorado purveyor recently hiked the price of an Ambien-like spray by more than 800 percent, the Wall Street Journal writes. Aytu BioScience increased the cost of the sleep aid Zolpimist from $69.88 for a 7.7-milliliter bottle to $659. 

This may be the most egregious price hike in recent months, but it’s not an isolated incident. While President Trump convinced Pfizer to refrain from hiking prices of more than 40 medicines for now, 10 other biopharma companies raised the prices on their branded drugs, Bloomberg wrote last week.

Aytu BioScience CEO Josh Disbrow defended the price increase for Zolpimist, saying the product is geared toward a small number of patients who are willing to pay more for the specialty drug, often out of pocket. 

“For those people who want a Cadillac, they can pay for it,” Disbrow said. 

Craig Venter's successor, for now


Six weeks after J. Craig Venter abdicated his post as overseer of Human Longevity, Inc., the company has a new interim CEO: Dr. David Karow, HLI’s chief of radiogenomics. He’ll lead HLI along with Scott Sorenson, the company’s CTO, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. 

HLI has shuffled through executives in the past year and change: Venter replaced former CEO Cynthia Collins, who lasted there less than a year. On top of that, the former chief operations officer, Saturnino “Nino” Fanlo, left quietly earlier this year, as reported by Fierce Biotech

HLI’s flagship technology is Health Nucleus, which began as a $25,000 whole-body scan of a customer. This included genomic analysis and MRI data, with the aim of diagnosing disease before symptoms presented themselves. The company has since dropped that price to $5,000, but it’s still untenable for a mass market, Karow told the Union-Tribune. The company may be able to drop the Health Nucleus cost below $1,000 in a few years, he said. 

HLI is outgrowing the startup phase and plans on scaling its technology, Karow added — with aims to raise more money, possibly via IPO. 

But we wonder: With that C-suite remix, who will step forward to invest? 

More reads
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals officially changes its name to Bausch Health Companies Inc. (Press release
  • Novartis is the implied villain of the most popular film in China right now. (STAT)
  • A bizarre medical scam that even the FDA can't figure out (BuzzFeed)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Monday, July 16, 2018


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