Tuesday, May 2, 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.

China’s richest man bets on a Bloomberg for genomics

WuXi NextCODE, the Sino-Icelandic genomics company, has added billionaire Jack Ma to its list of investors as it works to become the 23andMe of China.

The firm, which also has an outpost in Massachusetts, raised a $75 million venture round led by Singapore investment giant Temasek and Ma’s Yunfeng Capital. With the cash, WuXi NextCODE plans to expand the consumer-facing arm of its bifurcated business.

The company grew out of the Icelandic genomics pioneer DeCODE, which made its name amassing huge troves of genetic data and licensing it out to drug companies. WuXi NextCODE, tapping that database, has crafted a trio of tests that it markets in China: one for rare diseases, a second for carrier screening, and a third that amounts to a whole-genome wellness test akin to Craig Venter’s latest project.

The idea is to build up a market in China, where lax (or absent) regulations allow WuXi NextCODE to skip the legal speed bumps that hampered 23andMe, and use the resulting terabytes of genetic data from patients to bulk up  its database. In the end, the company hopes to fashion a single platform that unites all of its services, creating what CEO Hannes Smarason has described as a Bloomberg terminal for genomics.

A win for the slow-and-steady types

After more than two decades of toil, Exelixis is finally reporting its first profitable quarter since 1994. The company has a trio of small molecule cancer drugs on the market.

This kind of a timeline is far from unique in biotech: Vertex, for instance, was founded in 1989 and took more than two decades to get approval for cystic fibrosis drug Kalydeco. Plenty of others would likely have seen similar success, if they hadn’t gotten gobbled up by bigger biopharma before hitting that final milestone.

So we’ll call Elelixis’s success a testament that these slow-burn biotechs can actually wind up in the black — offering a light at the end of the tunnel for the stolidly acquisition-averse. 

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Theranos gets some good news

The investor that accused Theranos of spewing a “series of lies” about its blood-testing technology has decided to settle the resulting lawsuit, marking a rare respite from despair for the company that has come to redefine “embattled.”

Partner Fund Management, a well-heeled California hedge fund, has set aside its quest to recoup a $100 million investment plus damages and settled for undisclosed terms. That means Theranos is free to pursue a separate deal with other investors in which it's offering more equity in exchange for a promise never to sue. 

It may seem odd to accept shares of Theranos as a make-good for investing in Theranos in the first place, like demanding free seconds from a restaurant that served you spoiled food, but the company says a considerable number of its investors have agreed to do so. It expects the deal to close May 15.

The whole thing spells relief for Theranos, whittling down its list of worries to just lawsuits from jilted partners, class-actions from angry patients, investigations by the Department of Justice, and the looming threat of insolvency.

Add this item to the FDA to-do list

As Dr. Scott Gottlieb gears up for likely confirmation as FDA chief, STAT’s Ed Silverman has a request for his to-do list: Make labeling for the antidepressant Paxil more stringent.

The SSRI has been found to increase the risk of suicidal behavior for adults older than 25 — but the label does not make that clear. Paxil’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, actually offered to revise its labeling a decade back, but FDA opted instead to call for a common label across the SSRI class of drugs; it warned of increased risk for children and young adults, but not those over 25.

In his Pharmalot View column, Ed argues that changing the label on Paxil could save lives.

Read more. 

More reads

  • The soon-to-be-CEO-less Sarepta Therapeutics could attract the interest of activist investors. (TheStreet)
  • The highest-paid R&D execs in biopharma. (Endpoints)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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