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Wednesday, October 25, 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.

What’s going on with Biogen?

Yesterday, Biogen disappointed investors with some fuzzy math related to Spinraza, the recently approved spinal muscular atrophy treatment that is key to the company’s growth. 

On the one hand, quarterly sales beat Wall Street estimates. But on the other hand, U.S. revenue was flat compared to the prior quarter, which is not a good omen. A nuanced and forgiving take on the numbers suggests there could be better days for Spinraza ahead, but Biogen’s not providing the details necessary to be sure.

And the market was resultingly baffled. Salim Syed, an analyst at Mizuho, surveyed investors about Spinraza and got a panoply of reactions. Some couldn’t make heads or tails. Some said management was sandbagging. One simply wrote “Lies!” 

Most agreed on one thing: Biogen hasn’t said enough to draw a definitive conclusion. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” wrote Piper Jaffray analyst Christopher Raymond, nodding to “Cool Hand Luke” (or perhaps Guns ‘n’ Roses) to explain the confusion.

A note about that viral pharma chart

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Drugs: Turns out they're profitable. (Torreya)

Yesterday, the analysts at investment bank Torreya put out an exhaustively researched report on the state of the biopharma industry. And one slide went semi-viral in the biotech corner of Twitter, where people marveled at how the top 20 drug companies had doubled — doubled! — in market value in just six years.

But there’s an important caveat: The S&P 500 is up roughly 1.95 times in the same period. Which is to say that the biggest wheels of the drug industry, despite their marked growth, are also the beneficiaries of a rising tide.

That being said, the analysts at Torreya expect things to move ever upward. The biopharma business will triple in size between now and 2060, they predict, citing the OECD’s projections of global GDP growth.

DIY cancer drugs?

Here’s one way to sidestep all those pesky cancer drug costs: Make them yourself. 

Desperate cancer patients are flouting FDA mores and brainstorming ways to create their own immunotherapies, Gizmodo writes. The idea: Contract out a lab to manufacture a peptide, then buy all the other necessary equipment at a pharmacy online. 

Patient advocates have published a cancer immunotherapy DIY guide online — at least as it relates to the EGFR T790M mutation and its role in non-small cell lung cancer. And then, of course, there’s the anarchist biohacker STAT’s Charles Piller profiled earlier this month who is working on make-it-at-home recipes for a number of drugs. 

It's an extreme version of right-to-try, as patients circumvent federal protections and gamble with self-experimentation. 

“When people start injecting themselves or other people with DIY experiments, they are crossing a line,” one bioethicist told Gizmodo. “You don’t have accurate insight into whether it will work or whether there will be side effects.”

You don't say.

Let's talk about startups

Biotech’s best work has been built from a foundation of snazzy new startups. But how does one spark the necessary entrepreneurial genius?

And once that idea’s formed, where do you go from there? How do you choose the right team, get funded, and divvy up the labor between in-housers and CROs? Is there a secret sauce to it all?

STAT’s Rebecca Robbins and Meghana Keshavan will lead a panel discussion on the above with several Kendall Square entrepreneurs, including MIT's Bob Langer. The event, exclusive to STAT Plus subscribers, will also include a behind-the-scenes tour of LabCentral, a nonprofit incubator in Cambridge. It’s next Thursday, Nov. 2, at 5:30 p.m.

Sign up here.

More reads

  • In the U.S. market for human bodies, almost anyone can dissect and sell the dead. (Reuters)
  • Mr. Quixote goes to Washington? A bill would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. (STAT Plus)
  • AbbVie and Alector are teaming up to work on Alzheimer's. (FierceBiotech)

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

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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