The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Biotech is stocking up for a fallow period

If drug industry balance sheets are any indication, there’s more than a little angst about how 2020 is going to play out.

Last month, health care companies raised about $5 billion in secondary stock offerings, according to Bloomberg, the largest sum of any January since at least 2008. It came from nearly 50 offerings, roughly doubling last year’s 25.

To look on the positive side, the fact that so many companies could convince investors to buy their shares is encouraging for the sector. But on the more glaring negative side, the consolidation of so many offerings suggests an industry-wide scramble to raise money now before the market takes a turn.

Last week brought some disappointing earnings and encouraging polls for Sen. Bernie Sanders, two things that make biopharma stocks go down. If that’s a preview of the year to come, January’s many fundraisers will come to look prescient.

Agios might have a European problem

Last week, European regulators turned down Agios Pharmaceuticals’ Bristol-Myers Squibb-partnered cancer drug in what could be a bad omen for the company’s ambitions with a second, wholly owned treatment.

As STAT’s Adam Feuerstein reports, the European Medicines Agency concluded that the evidence supporting Idhifa, a treatment acute myeloid leukemia, wasn’t sufficient to support approval. That evidence, data from a single-arm study, was enough to convince the FDA in 2017.

It’s also quite similar to the evidence in support of Tibsovo, a follow-on AML therapy. Unlike with Idhifa, Agios doesn’t have to share Tibsovo sales with anyone, making the drug key to the company’s future. But if the EMA’s take on Idhifa is a preview of the next review, Agios’s plans might get interrupted.

Read more.

Employers are throwing their weight around on drug pricing

Washington’s fight over the cost of medicine is getting interrupted by a sleeping giant: the companies that pay for about 150 million Americans’ health care.

As STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports, a slew of large employers have formed an advocacy group to go after the rising cost of medicine. And the group, called EmployersRx, is more ideologically flexible than business coalitions tend to be. EmployersRx said it’s “intrigued” by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill — one dismissed as bad for business by the usual suspects of corporate lobbying.

These employers have “had enough of being the sucker at the table,” as one group member put it, and now they’re ready to put their ample resources to use.

Read more.

Meanwhile, in Wuhan

The outbreak of a novel coronavirus has evolved into global panic. Here’s a roundup of how the drug industry has responded in recent days.

  • Gilead Sciences is providing remdesivir, an investigational antiviral, as a treatment for people infected with the virus, and it has signed an agreement with Chinese authorities to run a clinical trial of the drug.
  • Oxford Nanopore sent 200 of its miniature sequencers to labs in China, hoping to assist with outbreak surveillance.
  • GSK will make its adjuvant technology available to support development of candidate vaccines.
  • About a dozen drug companies have committed to developing vaccines for the virus, a group that includes Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Therapeutics, and CureVac. Seven more are working on treatments for patients who have already been infected, led by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Vir Biotechnology, and AbCellera.

In the meantime, here’s a reminder of the many reasons that developing a drug or vaccine amid an outbreak is exceedingly challenging.

More reads

  • FDA approves first treatment for peanut allergy, but commercial use still an open question. (STAT Plus)
  • Black Diamond therapeutics doubles after $201 million IPO. (Bloomberg)
  • To fight coronavirus spread, the U.S. may expand ‘social distancing’ measures. But it comes at a cost. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Monday, February 3, 2020


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