Friday, June 24, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, your daily update on what the drug business is talking about. Today, we consider Obama's biotechnical navel-gazing, journalist ego strength, and Apple's latest acquisition. Need more? Visit


Which biotech startup should Obama join when he leaves office? Vote in our poll

Let's biotech, mr. prez! (Jason Alden / AP)

President Obama's going to need a new job in just a few months. How about something in biotech?

We're not (totally) joking. In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Businessweek published yesterday, Obama hinted that he might "think about something like precision medicine" for his post-presidency gig. "The conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying," he said. He also called advances in genomic mapping and tailored treatments "an example of something I can sit and listen and talk to folks for hours about."

He sounds, in other words, like a man in need of some career advice.

So we want you, Dear Reader, to play recruiter and tell us which biotech upstart Obama should join. (Click on one of the five company names below to cast your ballot. You can only vote once, so choose carefully!)

Biosimilar makers: Time to get excited

Drugmakers may soon have less time to cash out on their costly biological drugs: In response to concerns about drug prices, a new bill introduced in Congress would cut the period of patent exclusivity on biologics from 12 to 7 years on the market. The proposed bill’s called the “Price Relief, Innovation, and Competition for Essential Drugs Act.”
Trade group BIO wasted little time before complaining that  the bill is “a short-sighted attempt to undercut the critical work that innovator companies are doing and would, if enacted, deprive patients of many new treatments and cures in the future.”
Makers of biologics can still have a nice run, though. Gilead’s oft-cited hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, raking in something like $84,000 per patient, has managed to exceed the billion-dollar mark in sales several times over in less than seven years. Of course, not every drug is Sovaldi.  
In any case, biosimilar drugs aren’t remarkably cheaper — they’re forecast to cost about 10 percent to 30 percent less, “although this is a moving target since drug makers have begun raising prices on biologics as competition nears,” STAT’s Ed Silverman writes.

Apple's newest Friend

friend was hungry for apple. (sage bionetworks)

Just as Verily aimed (successfully or not) to build out an all-star health care team as it spun out of Google, it looks like another Silicon Valley mainstay is doing the same in digital health.
Apple has poached Stephen Friend, cofounder and president of Seattle’s Sage Bionetworks, a digital health nonprofit founded in 2009 whose work focuses on accelerating transparency in biomedical research.
Friend pined to be a part of Apple’s health care outfit, writing in an email to colleagues that “the pull of being a part of the remarkable Apple team,” as it worked to help people manage their health digitally, “became insatiable.”
He wrote that he will “work on new ways to impact peoples lives in health and disease” — though he hasn’t been specific about his new role or title.
It’s likely Friend will play a key role in Apple’s platforms that focus on health care, ResearchKit and CareKit. Sage, after all, has partnered on some of Apple’s more noteworthy health apps, such as its Parkinson mPower study app that helps patients with the neurodegenerative disease better manage their symptoms.

Apple had no comment on Friend’s hire beyond what was in a Sage Bionetworks release, which announced Lara Mangravite as the new president of the organization.

Biopharma journalist cage match?

Shots have been fired: TheStreet’s Adam Feuerstein Twitter-jabbed the useful new biotech newsletter Endpoints Thursday for a turn of what seemed like self-congratulation.

Displayed in the June 22 issue of Endpoints — the work of veteran biopharma reporter John Carroll and fellow Fierce alum Arsalan Arif — was a list of “the 100 most viral and prolific writers and editors in biopharma.” Guess who ranked first? Carroll. Feuerstein was third.

Endpoints, it should be noted, prides itself on gathering each day’s most impactful biopharma news items with what it says are carefully crafted “news bots.” Hence, Feuerstein’s reaction:


As patients get CRISPR, what could go wrong?

gene editing gone awry? (bertrand guy / AFP / Getty)

From editing the wrong strands of DNA to unintentionally mass-producing the enzymes that slice ’n dice genes, a fair amount of mayhem could ensue once CRISPR/Cas9 technology is deployed in patients — after a federal review board this week approved use of the powerful genome-editing tool in a cancer clinical trial.
Should something go wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time for a nascent technology. Take a 2002 gene therapy trial as an example: A boy developed leukemia after a therapeutic gene he was given wound up in the wrong spot and activated cancer-causing DNA.

STAT’s Sharon Begley pontificates on what could possibly go wrong once humans start getting CRISPRed. “Or,” Sharon writes, “everything could go well and CRISPR cures cancer.”

Yet another possible use for stem cells?

Contending with a fistula can be horrifying: These abnormal connections in the body can spring up after surgery, linking, say, the bladder to the colon, or even the lung to the skin, exposing one’s internal organs to the outside. They’re notoriously difficult to treat.
Begley spoke with a lung cancer patient who nearly died from a fistula that formed after surgery, until a Mayo Clinic team tried a first-of-its-kind therapy using stem cells extracted from her belly fat and grown on special mesh.

Researchers don’t know if it was the stem cells specifically that helped mend the fistula, but they did see that the experimental surgery was safe —and said it shows promise in treating these complications in other patients.

More reads

  • A smart overview of the genome sequencing biz — centering, of course, on San Diego's Illumina. (The Economist
  • Biogen needs a new deal to pad its pipeline, stat. (Endpoints)
  • Annexon Biosciences has an intriguing approach to Alzheimer's disease; it just raised a $44 million Series B, led by NEA. (Forbes)
  • Incyte Corp. was granted a breakthrough designation from the FDA for patients with acute graft-versus-host disease. (Press release)

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Thanks for reading! Until next week,

Damian & Meghana

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