The Readout Damian Garde

How a dinner conversation got GSK in with a CRISPR pioneer

GlaxoSmithKline is teaming up with CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna in pharmaco-academic alliance that traces its beginnings to a Mediterranean meal.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, it all began when Doudna, the University of California, Berkeley researcher who co-invented the CRISPR enzyme technology, had dinner last year with Hal Barron, who had just started as GlaxoSmithKline’s chief scientific officer. What ensued was a “wide-ranging” conversation about how genome-editing technology might lead to better drug targets.

Now GSK has agreed to spend up to $67 million over five years to staff a lab for that very purpose. 

Read more.

Genomics is Washington’s latest China panic

A pair of Republican senators is concerned that the U.S. might have compromised its national security by indirectly doing business with genomics firms that have ties to China.

In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Marco Rubio set their sights on WuXi Nextcode and BGI, two genomics outfits they call “entities connected to the Chinese government.” The senators want to know whether federal money made its way to WuXi and BGI through U.S. intermediaries, and whether the two firms got access to American genomic data.

This all comes amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and China when it comes to trade and data security. Earlier this year, the Trump administration ordered PatientsLikeMe, a U.S. health tech startup, to ditch its largest investor over concerns that its China-based majority owner would get access to American health data.

Read more.

A 20-year saga ends with $5.7 billion

Dassault said yesterday that it would spend $5.7 billion to purchase Medidata, a New-York-based maker of software used to create clinical trials. It's a win for Medidata investors, but especially for the company's co-founders, Tarek Sherif and Glen de Vries, who founded Medidata in 1999 and have spent the last two decades building it. 

STAT's Matthew Herper, who profiled the duo five years ago, describes them as a yin-and-yang pair. Sherif, the CEO, is circumspect, quiet, and imposing; de Vries is full of sprawling ideas and has a megawatt smile. The chemistry has worked. Medidata initially succeeded selling clinical trials software as a service — think SalesForce for pharma research — and managed to stay in the lead even after its main competition, a company called Phase Forward, was subsumed by Oracle.

One big question will be whether Medidata’s startup culture, which has resulted in aggressive sales growth (2018 sales were up 17% to $636 million) will be able to continue as part of a French company that knows a lot about software but not much about the incredibly weird business of pharma.

Meet the company making masks for immunotherapies

Immuno-oncology therapies like the melanoma-treating Yervoy can lead to complete remissions, but for some patients, the benefits come with troublesome toxicities.

With that in mind, the startup Akrevia Therapeutics is at work on what it calls a masking technique. As STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, the idea is to craft proteins that could be affixed to antibody therapies and prevent them from attacking anything other than their target tumors.

The company, still in the preclinical stages of development, is working off a $30 million series A round closed in 2018.

Read more.

More reads

  • Catalyst sues FDA over rivals’ drug approval, warning it undermines incentives for rare disease meds. (STAT Plus)
  • Move over, Martin Shkreli: This pharma exec is accused of fixing prices on 107 drugs. (Forbes)
  • Bain Capital raises $900 million for second life sciences fund. (Bloomberg)
  • House progressives challenge drugmakers to come back to Capitol Hill. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Thursday, June 13, 2019


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