Thursday, April 27, 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.


Tax repatriation lives!

President Trump is planning to keep his campaign promise of a tax repatriation holiday. The news comes with literally no detail, and it arrives on what looks like a dot-matrix document, but it’ll be music to the ears of biopharma companies and their investors.

The plan, according to Trump’s bullet-pointed goals, is a “one-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas.” (You’ll have to save questions like “how?” “when?” and “at what rate?” for a later time.)

Here's why biopharma likes the idea of a repatriation holiday: Drug makers have an estimated $175 billion stashed offshore, and, under current law, they have to pay up to 35 percent in taxes to bring it home. Wall Street quite likes the idea, too, betting that a lower rate will lead to a bolus of cash to jump-start a long-promised buyout boom that hasn’t come to be.

But before you start harkening back to the M&A explosion of 2015, consider: Last time the US tried this, drug companies spent their liberated funds on buybacks and pay raises.

Time's ticking for CIRM

Back in 2004, Californians made a $3 billion gamble on stem cell science. But time’s now running out on that funding, with few advancements in the field — and no approved therapies, as STAT reported in January.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is now handing out the last $650 million, which should fund research through 2020. But the question looms over whether the state’s taxpayers are willing to subsidize billions more in stem cell research. If not, 

“It’s an issue of great concern,” CIRM board chair Jonathan Thomas told Nature

Can AI tackle the biological multiverse?

tell the bots to avoid using frog dna in biologics. (giphy)

The more we know, the less we know. That’s the coarse takeaway from a wonderfully nerdy new treatise from Atlas Venture’s Bruce Booth on the infinite complexity of bioscience — and the limitations of in silico drug development. 

Many folks in the pharma industry may be banking on digital sorcery to unravel the complexities of drug development. Unfortunately, he argues, there are a lot of “charlatans” out there that may oversell the current potential of computer-assisted drug discovery — and while there’s certainly a promising role for machine learning and the like in biotech, it won’t be a be-all-end-all. Human biology is too mutable.

“… we could be at the singularity when ‘humans transcend biology’ — but I don’t think so,” he writes. 

The strange story of

Navigate over to and you won’t find propaganda for the University of California or the Broad Institute, and you won't see the pipelines of Intellia Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, or CRISPR Therapeutics. 

Instead, what is arguably among biotech’s most valuable domain names is owned by a Boston dermatologist with no discernible connection to gene editing. It’s one of nearly 800 URLs the doctor owns, and its wending trip involves some internet artifacts and a bet on Flickr becoming a branding bellwether.

STAT’s Sharon Begley has the story.

More reads

  • Yeah, President Barack Obama is taking $400,000 to speak at a Cantor Fitzgerald conference, but don't forget that he enacted "the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR," says his spokesman. (Twitter)
  • The Senate is slated to vote on Dr. Scott Gottlieb's nomination to lead to FDA. (RAPS)
  • Former Biogen CEO George Scangos took home $17.7 million in compensation in his final year on the job. (Endpoints)
  • Lab experiment: Asking undergrad chemists to help make drugs for neglected diseases. (STAT)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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