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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Is it ethical to raise drug prices in a crisis?

Among the drug industry’s most reliable business moves is the twice-a-year price increase, which makes hundreds of medicines that much more expensive every winter and summer. But in 2020, with staggering unemployment and a global pandemic putting people in danger, one group is imploring pharma to take the season off.

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, a group funded by insurers, providers, and doctors groups, has circulated a petition demanding that drug companies forgo mid-year price increases. You may recall Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, or CSRxP, from its 2017 ad campaign for a made-up drug called “PriceGougi$ol,” whose potential side effects included “overdrawn bank accounts, bad credit scores, higher health care costs,” and “children who don’t get Christmas presents.”

Whether this will actually change company behavior remains to be seen. But there’s something of a precedent. Back in summer 2018, after President Trump tweeted that Pfizer “should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason,” the company rolled back its latest price increases, and other drug makers followed suit. Everything returned to normal six months later, but it worked at least that once.

You may want to look twice at two big Covid-19 studies

A pair of major medical journals are concerned about the validity of two headline-grabbing Covid-19 studies: one that concluded certain heart drugs were safe, and one that found hydroxychloroquine was not.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper and Andrew Joseph report, the scrutiny centers on Surgisphere, a small company that provided hospital data for both studies. Editors from the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, which published studies based on the company’s data, have publicly expressed doubts in Surgisphere’s work, potentially undermining the widely publicized results.

This is particularly key to the story of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment whose potential in Covid-19 has risen from a medical curiosity to a political flashpoint. After the Lancet published that Surgisphere-powered study finding that hydroxychloroquine was associated with higher mortality than placebo, the World Health Organization paused a global trial meant to test the drug’s benefits.

Read more.

After a failure in NASH, Gilead is playing the long game

Gilead Sciences’ recent history has been a story of running in place. The company built an enviable business treating deadly viruses, but its attempts to diversify into areas like oncology and inflammatory disease have never come close to comparable success. The company’s most recent major failure, a treatment for the liver disease NASH, is a clear example.

Into that dynamic walks Mark Genovese, a renowned rheumatologist who spent more than 20 years at Stanford and is now in charge of Gilead’s efforts to develop medicines for inflammatory diseases, including NASH. His task will be to find actual drugs amid a pipeline that has lagged behind competitors in recent years.

Genovese’s appointment is the latest in a string of personnel moves under Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day, who started the job just over a year ago. It also falls in line with O’Day’s strategic departure from his predecessors. Under Gilead’s old model of buying its way out of problems, the solution might have been to acquire a NASH biotech at a high premium. O’Day, by contrast, has played a longer game, and recruiting Genovese could prove to be what the company needs.

What if the U.S. isn’t first to a coronavirus vaccine?

Moderna, a U.S. company, is the furthest along in the hunt for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. But CanSino Biologics, a Chinese company, appears to be only a few weeks behind with a vaccine of its own. What happens if CanSino wins the race?

Gaming out how countries will behave once there’s a functional vaccine has been a topic for months. But Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease scientist, doesn’t think it’ll be a major issue. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Fauci said he expects many of the scores of vaccines now in development to prove effective, including candidates from China. It’s not impossible one of the Chinese vaccines will become available first, but, considering the timelines, competing projects should only be a few months apart, he said.

“If the Chinese get a vaccine that they consider safe and effective, well, God bless them,” Fauci said. “I hope they do, because they’ve got a lot of people in China they need to protect. We’re going to be doing the same things here.”

More reads

  • Innovent starts China’s first trial of a novel cancer immunotherapy. (STAT Plus)
  • It’s time to bring generic drug manufacturing back to the U.S. (STAT)
  • Lawmakers, government watchdog blast FDA for poor oversight of U.S. drug supply chain. (STAT Plus)
  • Biotech’s smart money is already focused on disease prevention, boosting immune systems and longevity. (MarketWatch)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

STAT

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