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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

A large study suggests convalescent plasma can help treat Covid-19 — maybe

The blood plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 may have therapeutic properties, according to a new study. Patients who received plasma transfusions within three days of a Covid-19 diagnosis had a seven-day death rate of 8.7%, while those who got it after four or more days had a mortality rate of 11.9%. 

But the the Mayo Clinic study, which enrolled more than 35,000 patients, lacked a placebo arm — which has made it difficult for experts to interpret the data, STAT’s Matthew Herper and Damian Garde write

“It raises the question of what strength of evidence is necessary to treat during a pandemic,” one Yale researcher told STAT. “The problem is we have yet to resolve what is sufficient evidence to change the treatment paradigm.” 

Read more.

Lung cancer and the case for next-gen drugs

There’s been a substantial drop in cancer deaths, particularly of the lung. And though a general decrease in smoking is driving some of this change, it’s also a sign that next-gen cancer medications seem to work, National Cancer Institute director Norman E. Sharpless writes for STAT. 

In recent years, deaths from non-small cell lung cancer have decreased much more quickly than new cases, according to a new NEJM study — while small-cell lung cancer have decreased at the same rate as incidence. This, in Sharpless's view, is a  clear sign that the small molecule drugs and checkpoint inhibitors that target NSCLC tumors are making a substantial dent in patient life expectancy. 

“At the start of my career as an oncologist, advanced melanoma and lung cancer were mostly a death sentence,” Sharpless writes. “That we now see treatments effective enough to shift national death trends in these cancers is worth celebrating.” 

Read more.

Is pharma scared of Kamala Harris?

Are there second acts in biotech? And why don’t Covid-19 trials look more diverse? 

We discuss all that and more this week on “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, STAT’s Lev Facher joins us to talk about Sen. Kamala Harris’s health care record and how the drug industry is spending its lobbying dollars in 2020. 

Then, soon-to-be-former Alnylam Pharmaceuticals President Barry Greene calls in to look back on his career at the ascendant company and at what comes next. Finally, oncologist Hala Borno joins us to discuss the lack of diversity in Covid-19 trials and why science has to do better. 

Listen here.

J&J's new health tech investment

Johnson & Johnson’s innovation arm is investing in Thirty Madison, a telemedicine company that allows users to get prescriptions for hair loss, migraines, and acid reflux. The investment, STAT’s Rebecca Robbins writes, indicates that large drug makers are increasingly interested in startups that enable online (usually generic) prescriptions for common ailments. Unlike most pharma companies, these startups don’t accept insurance and instead charge modest out-of-pocket fees. 

Like many companies of its ilk, Thirty Madison has seen a surge of interest during the pandemic. It just raised a $47 million Series B round, led by Polaris Partners. Notably, Polaris’ Amy Schulman, former president of Pfizer’s consumer health care unit, will join Thirty Madison’s board.

Read more.

Psoriasis drugs don't come cheap

It’s become increasingly more expensive to treat psoriasis: Wholesale, or list, prices for these drugs have been rising steadily and substantially. The most notable increase is the dermatology drug Cimzia, which cost just under $40,000 when it was approved 11 years ago. Last year, it cost more than $94,000, STAT’s Ed Silverman writes.

“Most of these drugs have a list price that works out to more than $5,000 a month and with the changes in health care coverage, a lot of people who have high-deductible plans will have to pay that much to get the first dose of a drug,” said Laura Ferris, a co-author of a study on the issue. “The problem for many is their cost is based on list price.”

Read more.

More reads

  • Thermo Fisher's Qiagen bid fails after target gets COVID testing boost (Reuters)
  • Scholar Rock's experimental SMA therapy nabs speedy review voucher. (FierceBiotech)

Thanks for reading! More next week,

Damian

Friday, August 14, 2020

STAT

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