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The Readout Damian Garde

There's a lot of big biotech news expected between now and the end of the year. Join STAT's Adam Feuerstein for a subscriber-only chat on Thursday, Oct. 10, to break down the major storylines in play.

Biogen stays interesting


Six months after the failure of a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease on which Biogen staked its future, the company has become “a total show-me” story when it comes to new science, as an analyst at Stifel put it. So what does it mean when the top scientist quits?

Yesterday, Biogen disclosed that Michael Ehlers, its head of R&D, is departing to split his time between a venture fund and a gene therapy startup. He’d been there since 2016, and his job will now go to Al Sandrock, Biogen’s chief medical officer and the architect of its recent research past.

The announcement, according to analysts at J.P. Morgan, “does little to instill confidence in the company’s R&D outlook/direction,” and it arrives as Biogen’s pipeline continues to shrink. Last month alone, the company endured a clinical failure with a treatment for lung disease and ended development of yet another Alzheimer’s therapy. But, as STAT's Matt Herper writes, Sandrock could also be a long-term play. 

Read more.

Biotech just round-tripped for 2019

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Yesterday, in the latter hours of the afternoon, the closely watched XBI biotech index slipped right back to where it started the year, erasing the gains of a booming spring and some short-lived summer optimism.

And if you’re looking for some seasonal encouragement, you won’t get it from the analysts at Cowen. The firm’s regular survey of institutional investors began with the ominous observation that “it is getting colder and darker” before pointing out that, for the third month in a row, biotech stocks substantially underperformed the broader market.

Some of the issues are old — Big Biotechs are struggling to grow, smaller ones look overvalued — but at least one investor complaint is fairly novel: The emergence of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a likely Democratic nominee for president suggests the political pressure around the cost of medicine might only escalate, which would further alienate generalists from the drug industry.

What becomes of biotech’s golden children?


Every year, the biotech incubator Lab Central hands out some pharma-funded Golden Tickets, good for a year’s worth of lab space for selected startups. But just how valuable is 12 months of rent on Pfizer’s dime?

STAT’s Kate Sheridan caught up with last year’s winners, Tevard Biosciences and QurAlis, to find out what comes of a trip to biotech’s ersatz chocolate factory.

The short answer is that neither got an offer sheet (or a term sheet) from Pfizer, but each company said a public co-sign from such a known drug maker served as a major credibility boost. Then there’s the fact that free lab space means one less expense in a cash-intensive business.

Read more.

Science’s Oscar season is upon us


Next week, we’ll learn just who’s getting summoned to Stockholm for a Nobel Prize in medicine, chemistry, and physics, which means now’s the time for guessing, betting, and number-crunching.

As STAT’s Sharon Begley points out, there’s arguably a science to this stuff. Over the past 17 years, David Pendlebury of Clarivate Analytics has made 50 correct predictions by analyzing how often a scientist’s key papers are cited by peers. (Pendlebury hasn't always been correct about the year in which recipients will be honored.)

But it’s an imprecise science. For example, the oft-cited scientists behind big discoveries in cancer and immunology might theoretically be due, but the 2018 Nobels brought honors for immuno-oncology, and history suggests the judges won’t go back to that well so soon.

Read more.

More reads

  • Trump set to nominate Stephen Hahn as FDA commissioner, pending vetting process. (STAT)
  • Insulin maker Novo Nordisk walks moral tightrope. (Financial Times)
  • Opioid maker Mallinckrodt changes management severance to lump-sum payments. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Novartis partners with Microsoft to use AI in drug development. (STAT Plus)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

STAT

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