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The Readout Damian Garde

If you’re confused about all those drug pricing proposals

That means two things: One, you’re just as qualified to write a biotech email newsletter as the person typing this sentence, and, two, you’re in luck.

Introducing STAT’s Drug Pricing Policy Tracker, a living document from our D.C. correspondents that lists and explains every White House promise, congressional effort, and FDA working group meant to bring down the cost of medicine in the U.S.

If you’ve ever wondered what CREATES stands for, how a nation gets most favored, or which proposals actually stand a chance of passing a divided Congress, consider this your go-to cheat sheet as we wend toward the 2020 election.

Read more.

Elon Musk's Neuralink reveal was even wilder than advertised 

Elon Musk and leaders of his startup Neuralink took questions last night from an audience in San Francisco. (Rebecca Robbins/STAT)

Last night in San Francisco, the secretive brain-decoding startup Neuralink hosted a event about its progress and its plans. If you know much about Elon Musk, who's bankrolled the company to the tune of $100 million, you could probably have predicted that it would be a little weird.

That turned out to be true, and then some, reports STAT's Rebecca Robbins, who covered the event in person. 

In a presentation, Musk laid out bold plans for Neuralink's technology, which is meant to be implanted into the brain and designed to allow people to operate computers and smartphones with their thoughts. The company hasn't gotten the OK from the FDA yet, but it wants to start testing the technology in paralyzed patients by the end of next year.

Musk mused at one point about his technology giving people the option of merging with AI. “We are a brain in a vat,” he remarked at another point. Later, he spoke dreamily about communicating telepathically. He also made a joke, that didn't quite land, about involving Neuralink's research on rats and “karmic payback” for the Black Plague.

Read more.

The race to treat chronic cough is a matter of taste

Chronic cough — the kind that persists after a diagnosable illness has passed — hasn’t seen a new drug since 1958, and it sends about 30 million Americans to the doctor each year. In business terms, that mean a multibillion-dollar opportunity, and the race to make the most of it could hinge on an unsavory side effect.

Merck is in the lead with a drug called MK-7264, which could win FDA approval as early as 2021 if it succeeds in Phase 3. However, in an earlier study, Merck’s treatment succeeded at relieving cough but also altered or wiped out the sensation of taste for a majority of patients.

That could leave room for the much smaller Bellus Health, whose BLU-5937, now in Phase 2, shares a target with Merck’s drug. Bellus, which has an interesting backstory, believes its drug is more selective and thus less likely to affect taste, and it hosted an analyst event yesterday to explain why. Bellus’s $365 million market cap suggests investors have more than a few lingering reservations, but management believes BLU-5937 has a shot.

Arie Belldegrun's family business strikes it rich

A two-year-old VC firm led by Arie Belldegrun and other Kite Pharma alumni is looking for $600 million — and they seem to have found nearly all of it.

More than 100 investors have already committed well over $500 million to Vida Ventures’ second fund, according to SEC documents filed on Monday.

When it closes, the fund will be one of several so-called mega-funds raised by biotech VCs in recent years — though it won’t be the biggest. Arch Venture Partners is also raising about $600 million, while Flagship Pioneering closed a $824 million “special opportunities” fund in 2017.

Belldegrun himself has been particularly busy this week, too. He and his wife, Rebecka Belldegrun, announced on Tuesday that they had formed a new life science real estate company, Breakthrough Properties. (Their son will be the new company’s CEO.) Breakthrough’s first development will be in Boston’s Seaport; it should be open in 2021.

More reads

  • Kamala Harris becomes the latest Democrat to zero in on drug prices. (STAT)
  • Access to trial meds needs market incentive, conservatives say. (Bloomberg Law)
  • Trump to order drive for improved flu vaccine. (Politico)
  • New clues on why women’s Alzheimer’s risk differs from men’s. (Associated Press)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Wednesday, July 17, 2019


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