Friday, November 11, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of all the biotech news. Follow us on Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

Evaluating Trump's impact on biopharma

A whole lot of uncertainty: That’s what Donald Trump’s impending presidency will bring to biopharma, according to a brief new analysis from the folks over at Evaluate.

“The loss of a law that has delivered coverage for 20 million Americans, with no comprehensive plan to replace it, must raise concerns throughout biopharma as it significantly reduces the number of people who can afford new drugs,” the report says. 

Judging from stock prices, doesn't seem like investors are all too worried about that. But the report calls for caution: “Wise executives might want to listen for greater detail about an ACA replacement before celebrating wins on pricing and taxes."

Using amyloids for good

Certain amyloids are widely believed to play a role in the advance of Alzheimer’s disease by forming clumps that wipe out brain cells. But new research suggests that some amyloids might be repurposed for therapeutic use.

Scientists from the University of Leuven took aim at a protein called VEGFR2, which is crucial to the survival of certain cancer types. They injected the cells of mice with an amyloid called vascin, which acts as a sort of tar pit when it runs into VEGFR2. 

And it worked: Adding the amyloid forced VEGFR2 molecules to clump together, rendering them inactive. In theory, doing this on a grander scale could kill cancer cells and halt tumor growth, study author Joost Schymkowit told STAT’s Megan Thielking.

“One could compare it to catching tumors in a spider’s web,” Schymkowit said. “By artificially imitating the formation of protein clumps, we can inhibit molecules that play a central role in several diseases.”

Elsewhere in the Trump library of tea leaves

The president-elect updated his transition website (, if you were wondering) with a promise to “reform the Food and Drug Administration to put greater focus on the need of patients for new and innovative medical products.”

This, like most everything Trump has said about regulations, is generally perceived as good for biotech. But, with the FDA just months removed from bending over backward to approve a new drug based on scant evidence, how much harder can the agency focus on those patient needs?

In the short term, a virtual E-ZPass lane for drug approvals would of course be beneficial to the biopharma business, reducing the time and money a company has to commit before recouping revenue on already expensive science. Stocks tend to go up when drugs win approval, after all. 

But they also tend to plummet when approved drugs are later found not to work or, worse, to have dangerous side effects. String together a few post-marketing mishaps and that all-important investor sentiment may falter. And if investors lose faith in the idea that the biotech industry can consistently produce viable medicines, that could be worse for the industry than a suddenly draconian FDA.

Be careful what you wish for, biotech.

The Biotech Devil's Dictionary

There’s a lot of jargon, coded language, and outright nonsense in biotech, and we want to clear up — and celebrate — as much of it as we can through this glossary. Have a phrase to contribute? Email it over.

Transformational (adj.) and unmet need (n.): A pair of phrases one can weave into really any sentence about a new drug, as no one in the history of biopharma has touted its milquetoast pipeline of treatments for diseases that are perfectly well served already.

“Addressing the significant unmet need in fibrotic diseases is a key part of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s strategy to build a sustainable and diversified portfolio of transformational medicines.” — Francis Cuss, chief scientific officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb

More reads

  • How to enroll your dog in a cancer-drug trial. (Economist)
  • NASH is set to take up the spotlight at this weekend's annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. (MedPage Today)
  • Mirna Therapeutics is circling the drain after running into serious safety issues. (Press release)

Have a news tip or comment you want to send us?

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Thanks for reading! Until next week,

Damian & Meghana

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