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The Readout Damian Garde

The unlikely story of how an Ebola vaccine came to be

After an Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in 2014, it took only a few years to test and approve a vaccine for the virus, a staggering speed when it comes to vaccine development. Today, Merck has an approved product.

But, as STAT’s Helen Branswell reports, the seeming overnight success in Ebola has roots dating back three decades marked by scientific inspiration, personal dedication, and a series of roadblocks that almost guaranteed failure.

“This vaccine … from the beginning to the end — it should have never happened. On so many levels … against all odds, it made it,” one scientist said. 

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Even bipartisanship doesn’t guarantee success on drug pricing

Through one lens, the recently passed CREATES Act is a model of congressional harmony, a bipartisan bill to lower drug prices that came with industry support. So why’d it take 10 years to become law?

As STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports, the decade-long saga that got CREATES onto President Trump’s desk is a striking example of Congress’s modern dysfunction — and a chilling omen for more ambitious ideas to reduce the cost of medicine.

“The day it passed I was really fired up, and the next day I was like, ‘I can’t believe it took this long to get this done,’” said Michael Kades, the director for markets and competition policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who played a key role in drafting the CREATES Act. 

Read more.

The next test of China’s biotech renaissance

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s recent decision to welcome biotech companies has sparked scrutiny, volatility, and at least a few runaway successes. But one of China’s biggest drug developers has decided to list its shares in the U.S., instead.

I-Mab, a Shanghai firm developing cancer drugs, filed to raise about $120 million in a Nasdaq IPO. It’s expected to start trading on Jan. 16, at which point it will become just the third Chinese-headquartered biotech company to go public in the U.S., following Zai Lab in 2017 and BeiGene the year before.

The fate of I-Mab’s offering will be an instructive update on how investors regard China’s fast-growing biotech industry. It’ll also be an update on faith: Like its predecessors, I-Mab isn’t selling regular stock to U.S. investors but instead what are called American depositary shares, which do not convey shareholder rights like voting on directors. 

Consider the Goldilocks approach to psychedelics

Researchers have long established that mind-bending doses of psychedelic drugs can have antidepressive benefits. And enthusiasts have long claimed (with debatable evidence) that microdosing psilocybin makes them better at their jobs. But what about the middle way?

Shlomi Raz is the CEO of the London-based Eleusis, which is among the companies, nonprofits, and government departments researching whether it’s possible to get all the benefits of high-dose psychedelic treatment without the associated trip.

This kind of work is not yet the stuff of multinational pharmaceutical investment, but Raz, writing in STAT, thinks that will change. As more evidence points to the efficacy of low-dose psychedelics and the possibility of engineering molecules that convey the physical benefits without the psychoactive risks, formerly outré research should enter the mainstream, according to Raz.

Read more.

More reads

  • The VA approach to buying drugs means patients are less likely to skip medications due to cost. (STAT Plus)
  • Global insider-trading ring linked to trial of pharma CEO's son. (Bloomberg)
  • Guardant Health CEO deleted email evidence after lawsuit deposition. (GenomeWeb)
  • Moderna CEO Bancel acknowledges a setback, but stays focused on an upbeat assessment of 2019. (Endpoints)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

STAT

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