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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Flagship's brazen approach to biotech

Flagship Pioneering has built up a reputation for investing gobs of money in companies with vague but lofty ambitions. With its backing of Moderna Therapeutics, that approach has paid dividends.

In the view of Flagship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan, Moderna was the inevitable result of years of pushing his team to act and think differently than others in biotech. Others don't disagree, but say it comes at a cost: Outside-of-the-box thinking has pushed some employees past their comfort zone, as STAT’s Kate Sheridan writes

“There is a tolerance for failure,” one Harvard onlooker who has studied Flagship told STAT. “They realize when they start something — they’re pretty sure it’s gonna fail. They don’t have a tolerance for people who aren’t strong at what they do.”

Read more. 

Post-Warp Speed, Slaoui raises $250 million for new company

Moncef Slaoui, coming off his job leading Operation Warp Speed, is returning to his previous life as a venture capitalist. This morning, he announced he's raised $250 million to launch a new company, Centessa Pharmaceuticals, which will merge 10 small biotech companies into a larger unit.

Saurabh Saha, fresh from a role as global head of translational medicine at Bristol Myers Squibb, will serve as CEO, STAT’s Matthew Herper writes. The idea is to bring the benefits of a large company to the teams behind smaller biotech firms — an approach Slaoui used when he worked at GlaxoSmithKline.

“We have 15 programs in the pipeline,” Slaoui told STAT. “We can negotiate with the contract manufacturers, with the clinical research organizations, in a way that a single asset company cannot do and a biotech company cannot.” 

Read more.

Goodbye, Mila

We’re very sad to share the news that 10-year-old Mila Makovec died a few days ago from Batten disease, an ultra-rare, neurodegenerative genetic disorder. She became well-known among the scientific community and beyond after Boston Children’s scientists, working at a frantic pace, developed an antisense oligonucleotide drug, milasen, designed exclusively for her unique genetic mutation. 

Mila’s family has spent the years since her diagnosis raising awareness for rare diseases — working with scientists and regulators alike to develop a pathway for individualized medicines for patients who need them. In fact, just last month the FDA issued new guidance that simplifies the process to treat extremely rare diseases — thanks, in large part, to advocacy from Boston Children’s and Mila’s family. 

“Although not in time for Mila, her second chance is now giving hope for many more,” says Mila’s Miracle Foundation, which is continuing to raise funds to find "n-of-1" therapies for children with rare disease. 

Analyzing the many drugs used for Covid-19

David Fajgenbaum is known for finding a treatment for Castleman Diseases, which nearly cost him his life. These days, however, his team at University of Pennsylvania is developing a database of all the drugs that have been used to treat Covid-19, and analyzing their efficacy. He spoke recently on STAT’s podcast, “The Readout LOUD,” but we’ve compiled the highlights of the conversation here.

As Fajgenbaum analyzed data on about 400 drugs given to more than 270,000 patients, it became clear that a wide spectrum of drugs, deployed at different points in the course of the illness, are necessary. 

“There isn’t going to be one drug that works no matter what time in our disease course it’s going to be,” he said. “And some of those drugs that are effective at one time point are actually harmful if given at another time point.”  

Read more. 

More reads

  • Novavax to complete US trial enrollment in record time. (Financial Times)
  • The NIH needs to ensure that women are equally represented in grant funding decisions. (STAT
  • Symptomatic Covid-19 cases dropped 94% with Pfizer vaccine, Israeli data show. (Wall Street Journal)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Damian

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

STAT

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