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Monday, August 15, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, your daily note from the world of biotech. Follow us on Twitter for more: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

Who's winning the CRISPR fight? Lawyers

Not pictured: The Broad Institute's small army of attorneys. (CYRUS MOGHTADER/THE BOSTON GLOBE)

The battle over just who invented CRISPR genome editing could sway billions in future revenue. And the wages of war are expensive.

Editas Medicine spent $10.9 million on legal fees in the first six months of this year, most of which went to support its friends at Harvard and the Broad Institute in their litigation against the University of California, Berkeley. That sum comes on top of a $4.7 million legal charge Editas recorded in 2015.

It's “a lot even by patent litigation standards,” one expert told STAT's Sharon Begley. And with the CRISPR dispute expected to take many months, it's only going to get costlier.

For what it's worth, Intellia Therapeutics, which is aligned with Berkeley, has spent $1 million this year to help the legal efforts of its licensors. The other company involved, CRISPR Therapeutics, is privately held and doesn't have to disclose its expenditures.

Everything's coming up Moderna

Moderna Therapeutics, armed with $1 billion in cash and the promise to turn human cells into drug factories, is on the verge of expansion.

According to the Boston Business Journal, the Cambridge company is scouting for suburban site to house a new manufacturing facility that would produce its messenger RNA-derived therapies. The fast-growing firm has two drugs in clinical trials with plans to advance at least 10 more in the coming months.

And the firm scored some major media attention, starring in a very friendly CNN segment that lauds its technology as a potential cure for cancer.

Genes in space: Quite the science fair project

NASA wants humans on Mars in the next two decades. And in order for Earthlings to turn Martian, it just might enlist the help of 15-year-old scientist Julian Rubenfien, who recently won “Genes in Space” — a competition meant to solve space exploration problems using DNA analysis. The wunderkiddo spoke with STAT’s Megan Thielking about his lab work: 

What was your inspiration for studying genetics in space?

Our bodies can’t really stand up to the rigors of space life. Even in an environment like the ISS set up to mimic Earth, we still encounter these health troubles. We need to first understand what happens to our bodies during space flight, and I was proposing we do so by looking at the dynamics of telomere change during flight. They’re these caps on our chromosomes on the end of DNA.  

Why look at telomeres?

They protect chromosomes from damage over the course of our lives. But researchers have found a significant connection between telomere dynamics and aging. Its hypothesized that astronauts can age at a more rapid rate in space. My proposal was for a new assay and a model system to look at telomere dynamics. It can measure telomere lengths, and you can perform the assay entirely on site and do it over time, looking at how they change at different time points. As of right now, most studies on the ISS use data actually gathered first on Earth. I also proposed we use organoids [lab-made models of human organs], because you can bring hundreds of them on the ISS and then you can get tons of data compared to data from a few astronauts.

Keep calm and keep funding British research

let's fill that hole with some cash money from the uk government (Christopher Furlong / getty images)

British scientists are breathing a little easier, post-Brexit: The UK government said it'll pick up the research tab for British participants in the Horizon 2020 program. That is, the funding that was committed to scientists before Britain's vote to secede from the European Union, Financial Times writes. 

Horizon 2020, launched in 2014, is an €80 billion ($89 billion) effort throughout EU countries to double down on scientific research to fuel economic growth. The UK is contributing about 12 percent of the Horizon 2020 funding, and about 15.5 percent of its recipients are British scientists.

A couple months ago, Steve Bates, CEO of the BioIndustry Association, a UK-based life sciences trade group, told STAT: "We've got to keep calm and keep on biotech-ing." 

Sounds like that's still the plan.

More reads

  • Eleven Biotherapeutics is still kicking despite being hobbled by clinical failure. (FierceBiotech)
  • AstraZeneca is betting big on a late-stage study that could help it compete with Bristol-Myers Squibb's market-leading immuno-oncology treatment. (Bloomberg)
  • Digging into the data on a French drug trial that proved fatal, the FDA concluded that other treatments in the same class are safe enough to test. (FDA release)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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