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The Readout Damian Garde

23andMe will now develop drugs without its chief drug developer

Richard Scheller, a veteran of Genentech, joined 23andMe in 2015 just as the consumer genetics company was embarking on the process of developing therapies of its own. Now 23andMe will have to manage without him.

Scheller left his post as chief scientific officer, the company confirmed, and will now spend his time as a chairman of R&D at BridgeBio Pharma while sitting on some biotech boards. In the meantime 23andMe’s head of therapeutics will take on Scheller’s duties but not his title, the company said.

Read more.

So much for the year’s biggest biotech IPO

BioNTech, a privately held company developing messenger RNA therapies, just raised $325 million from investors, a development that suggests its long-rumored IPO isn’t coming anytime soon.

Earlier this year, both Bloomberg and Reuters reported that the Germany company was plotting to raise about $800 million in a public offering that would give it a valuation of more than $4 billion. BioNTech never commented on those reports, and, speaking to reporters after its latest fundraise, the company was evasive on the topic of a future IPO.

BioNTech has now raised about $1.4 billion since its inception, which suggests it won’t be in need of IPO-derived cash any time soon. That said, Moderna Therapeutics, the other mRNA company with a multibillion-dollar valuation, filed to go public about 10 months after raising $500 million in private funding. If BioNTech has a similar plan in mind, biotech’s investment bankers may yet collect those long-rumored IPO fees.

Maybe the FTC is too lax when it comes to pharma

Recent pharma mergers have run into turbulent regulatory waters as the FTC seems to be taking a harder line with high-dollar unions in the drug industry. But according to Katy Milani of a think tank called the Roosevelt Institute, the agency isn’t going far enough to protect consumers from the downstream effects of pharmaceutical consolidation.

Writing in STAT, Milani says deals like AbbVie’s proposed acquisition of Allergan illustrate pharma’s desire to take the easy way out, buying up rival firms at the expense of investing in science that might discover new medicines. Between 1995 and 2015, 60 pharmaceutical companies merged into just 10, and Milani argues that the simultaneous rise in drug costs is no coincidence.

Her solution: Elected leaders should pressure the FTC to outright reject some of these mergers.

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A vaunted technology is in for its first big clinical test

Genome sequencing is a tidy way to figure out what’s going on in a given bodily tissue, but because those tissues are made up of countless cells, what you get is a scientific average that doesn’t account for subtle differences between individual cells.

That’s why single-cell sequencing, which is exactly what it sounds like, has been a tantalizing tool since it was first described in 2009. And now, thanks to a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and the startup Celsius Therapeutics, there’s a sizable clinical trial in the works to determine whether the technology can explain why certain patients respond to treatment.

As STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, the plan is to use Celsius’s single-cell RNA sequencing method on samples from about 200 patients in a J&J ulcerative colitis trial. The idea is to find biomarkers that will predict whether patients will benefit from J&J’s approved Simponi, and the result “will be an order of magnitude bigger and more ambitious than anything anyone has attempted in this space,” said Tariq Kassum, Celsius’s CEO.

Read more.

More reads

  • A Supreme Court ruling may have made it harder to get some info from the FDA. (STAT Plus)
  • Chinese VC spending on U.S. biotech hit by security reviews. (Financial Times)
  • Stem cell funding agency CIRM is nearly out of funds. (The Scientist)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Wednesday, July 10, 2019


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