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Tuesday, March 21, 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.

Trump isn't dropping drug pricing

In Kentucky last night at a rally to defend the Republican health care bill, President Trump resurrected a classic: The war on drug prices.

Indeed, he went as far as to say that he'd like to add pricing reform to the health care bill. Or else, address it later. Either way, he's promised he'll tackle the problem soon. Whether it was a sign of things to come or merely a rhetorical exercise — well, that's the riddle of Trump.

Here's what we know: The president said, as he has said many times before, that he'll seek "to bring down the cost of medicine by having a fair and competitive bidding process."

He also lamented that "the same pill, the same manufacturer" costs far more in the United States than in other countries. Why? "Campaign contributions, who knows," said Trump, who has repeatedly slammed the drug industry for its political influence.

We'll be watching this morning to see if Wall Street freaks out — or, more likely, simply shrugs.

The strange world of 'venomics'

Venomous snakes bite about 5 million people each year, leaving many dead, maimed, or crippled. And biotech researchers across the globe are using all the modern tools of drug development in hopes of crafting safe, effective antidotes that can be deployed in countries where the risks are highest.

As STAT's Usha Lee McFarling reports, that means spinning up nanoparticles, crafting monoclonal antibodies, and, in the case of one researcher, inducing paralysis (on himself) to test an experimental anti-venom nasal spray.

Read more.

Is the Precision Medicine Initiative stalling?

It’s been a slow crawl for the Precision Medicine Initiative. The Obama administration's pet project has yet to recruit a single patient. It hasn’t even begun the beta testing needed to get the ambitious effort to sequence 1 million genomes off the ground.

This is behind schedule: The PMI had initially hoped to kick off enrollment in fall 2016. Now, spokeswoman Katie Rush tells STAT it’ll probably take until spring or even summer to get beta testing in place — with formal recruitment put off until later in the year.

“Exact dates are TBD,” Rush said. “But we’re definitely moving ahead with plans.”

What are those plans? Well, the PMI is setting up the infrastructure needed to securely collect and analyze the data of so many people. It's distributing funding to organizations that will help with on-the-ground recruitment. And in May, the head of the initiative, Eric Dishman, will discuss the project at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. 

The big question, of course, is whether the ambitious initiative will get off the ground, given the prospect of huge budget cuts, leadership turnover at the National Institutes of Health... and the challenge of persuading so many Americans to turn intimate data on their genes and their health over to the federal government.

Pharma is warming up to selling its darlings

As many biotech types will tell you, there are a lot of promising drugs sitting on the shelves of pharma. The challenge is finding out they’re there — and then prying them away from their inventors.

But the world’s biggest drug makers are coming around to the idea of out-licensing their pipelines, according to a new survey from EY. Polling 183 executives, EY found that 28 percent have business development teams devoted to mining their own asset banks in search of that “hidden value” business consultants are always going on about.

That’s not a huge number, but it represents a threefold increase from the same survey last year, suggesting the industry is slowly moving on from yesteryear’s silo model of R&D and embracing a more fluid approach to moving drugs forward.

Venter's $1,400 genome

Craig Venter’s company, Human Longevity, which made the $25,000 physical famous, is now offering a decidedly less pricey product: He's marketing discount whole genome sequencing to the customers and employees of Mass Mutual Life Insurance. 

For $1,400, you get a 500-page report on your genetic risk for various diseases. You get an analysis of your ancestry, and of how your body processes caffeine. You even get a poster-size readout of your genome, fit for framing.

Worth it?

Read more on STAT Plus.

More reads

  • Why Sanofi and Regeneron may ultimately prevail over Amgen in the race to profit from PCSK9. (Forbes)
  • Lilly takes a stab at pricing transparency, but is it enough of the right data? (STAT Plus)
  • How a boy’s Lazarus-like revival points to a new generation of drugs. (MIT Technology Review)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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