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The Readout Damian Garde

Are we all just brains in a vat?

Can apps treat anxiety? And is Gilead Sciences back on track?

We discuss all that and more on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we dig into Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company and the bombastic announcement of its futuristic intentions. Then, we discuss Gilead’s $5 billion effort to reverse its recent fortunes. Later, STAT’s Megan Thielking joins us to discuss the complexity of designing apps to deal with mental health issues.

You can listen to the episode here. To listen to future episodes, be sure to sign up on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

We’ve entered the era of the ‘platform’ dominance

There was a time, back in biotech’s leaner years, when any company hoping to raise even a dollar needed a clear path to get a single drug through clinical trials. Now, in today’s gilded age of VC largesse, companies can raise nine-figure funding rounds without so much as deciding on a discrete disease area.

Such so-called platform companies raised $659 million in Series A dollars the first half of 2019, according to the latest data from Silicon Valley Bank, leading all other biotech categories. It’s the first time since 2013 that oncology hasn’t attracted the most A round money, dwarfed by big-idea companies like Sana Biotechnology and ElevateBio.

And recent history suggests the platform path is lucrative for investors. Since 2018, roughly half of the highest-valued private biotech companies have been platform-focused, and five have since gone public at valuations exceeding $1 billion.

The first digital pill might offer little more than longer patent life

Back in 2017, when the FDA approved the first sensor-equipped pill in the form of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals’ Abilify MyCite, the company called it a milestone for patient adherence. But a new study claims the evidence is flimsy at best, and the digitization of an old drug might be more of a patent gambit than a medical advance.

As STAT’s Ed Silverman reports, researchers dug through the trial data on Abilify MyCite and concluded that Otsuka failed to demonstrate the technology actually improves adherence. The FDA approved the pill anyway, a decision that could have consequences for consumers, the researchers wrote in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.

Read more.

Your Alzheimer’s questions, answered

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between plaques and oligomers, between alpha synuclein and tau, or just what BACE stands for, we have answers for you.

Yesterday, STAT’s Sharon Begley and Matthew Herper spent a few hours fielding all manner of questions about the state of Alzheimer’s disease research, including the fate of the amyloid hypothesis and the role of bacteria in neurodegeneration. They talked about novel therapeutic targets, genetic testing, and how the immune system intersects with Alzheimer’s.

If you missed it (or just want to relive it), you can find the archive here.

More reads

  • How do you test a new seasickness drug? Take pill, set sail. (Bloomberg)
  • Martin Shkreli loses appeal of conviction, sentence. (Reuters
  • Novartis sets aside $700 million to settle bribery charges in the U.S. (STAT Plus)
  • Role of seizures in Alzheimer’s disease is getting overattention. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,


Friday, July 19, 2019


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