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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

A tiny plastic tool has brought science to its knees

While biotech labs often shell out for expensive sequencers and whirring machines to do the business of science, perhaps no tool is more essential than the pipette tip, a cheap, tiny piece of plastic used at virtually every bench in the world. Now, thanks to a confluence of supply-chain disruptions, there’s a global shortage of pipette tips, forcing science and medicine into an impossible situation.

As STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, the problem stems from blackouts, fires, and pandemic-related demand, all conspiring to make it exceedingly difficult for labs to get the pipette tips they need. 

Because the plastic caps are ordinarily abundant, they’re used with relative abandon; a typical bench scientist might grab a new pipette tip every 15 seconds. Their sudden scarcity is endangering programs that screen newborns for genetic diseases, threatening university stem cell research, and forcing biotech companies to prioritize certain experiments over others. And there’s no sign the shortage will end soon.

Read more.

Are we sure shutting off ‘don’t eat me’ signals can treat cancer?

Among the latest ideas for killing tumors is one targeting a protein called CD47, which cancer cells use to send a “don’t eat me” message to the immune system. But in clinical trials, anti-CD47 drugs appear to work much better in combination with other medicines than they do on their own, which dredges up memories of once-promising cancer targets that turned out to be useless.

The latest data, from Trillium Therapeutics, are unlikely to change the narrative. As STAT’s Adam Feuerstein reports, Trillium released updated data from a lymphoma trial in which its CD47 treatment led to a 33% response rate, which is slightly worse than what the company presented in December. The cause for concern is that the 10 new patients in the study got the highest doses of Trillium’s drug, and yet the responses didn’t improve.

That said, there’s still plenty of faith in CD47’s potential.

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Biogen expands access to its ALS drug, but it may come too late for some patients

After weeks of public controversy, Biogen has agreed to provide its investigational treatment for ALS to some patients outside a clinical trial. But the company’s solution, which involves waiting for that study to conclude, means some patients with the rapidly progressing disease might get no benefit from the drug by the time it’s available.

As STAT’s Ed Silverman reports, the pressure on Biogen began with Lisa Stockman Mauriello, who mounted a high-profile campaign to convince the company to provide its treatment, tofersen, to patients like her who could not enroll in the trial. Biogen repeatedly refused, concerned that providing the drug to patients outside the study would be unfair to participants who were given a placebo. The company’s decision to open up access in July, once the study is over, is meant to get around that issue.

But it offers little reassurance to Stockman Mauriello, who was diagnosed with ALS in February and has already seen her disease progress. “For us, this is a death sentence because we most likely will not make it to mid-July when the tofersen expanded access will start, and if we do, we will be in such bad shape that we may not see any benefit,” Stockman Mauriello wrote.

Read more.

Covid-19 antibodies aren’t looking so lucrative

Eli Lilly, which had seen its stock price soar over the past year, surprised Wall Street yesterday by lowering its projections for the year after a disappointing quarter of sales.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, a major factor was Lilly’s antibody treatment for Covid-19, which the company previously expected to bring in as much as $2 billion in 2021. Sales came in well below analysts’ expectations in the first quarter, and Lilly slashed its full-year guidance by $250 million at the midpoint, which appeared to be the main driver of the company’s lowered outlook for 2021.

The news sent Lilly’s shares down about 3%. The company’s financial hiccup comes on the heels of a string of R&D victories, including news that its promising diabetes drug showed significant benefits in treating obesity and that its breast cancer treatment had a clinical edge over a blockbuster rival.

Read more.

More reads

  • In Covid’s grip, India gasps for air: ‘If there is an apocalypse, this has to be one.’ (STAT)
  • Zolgensma flatlines, but Spinraza isn’t the beneficiary. (Evaluate Vantage)
  • U.S. drugmakers step up supplies as India battles Covid-19 surge. (Reuters)
  • Illumina stock dips despite first-quarter beat, strong earnings guide. (Investor's Business Daily)
  • A mask break: Federal health officials say vaccinated people can doff face coverings when outside, away from crowds. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


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