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Monday, March 19, 2018

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.

What about the other person responsible for Theranos?

(Alex Hogan/STAT)

We're all familiar with the origin story of Elizabeth Holmes, how a college dropout with but a turtleneck and a dream set out to revolutionize blood testing and instead became a cautionary tale.

But what about her No. 2? Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani is a virtual ghost, with almost no digital footprint and no verifiable photos more recent than 1988. While Holmes graced magazines and spoke at conferences, Balwani wielded immense behind-the-scenes power at Theranos. And that means he's just as culpable in the company's alleged fraud, according to the SEC. (His lawyer begs to differ.)

We dug up everything we could find on Balwani, who is also Holmes's ex-boyfriend, and took a look at what the future may hold for him as he refuses to settle with the SEC.

Read more.

An awkward week for Sen. Celgene

Consider the last seven days for Bob Hugin, the retired Celgene executive running for Senate.

First, a New Jersey poll revealed that his Democratic opponent, weeks removed from beating a corruption case, held a 17-point lead over him. Then, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley — two of Hugin's would-be colleagues — used his work at Celgene to illustrate drug industry "abuses" that "punish patients and worsen illnesses."

Since 2009, Celgene has been reticent to provide samples of Revlimid, its best-selling drug, to generics companies, thus slowing the progress of cheap competition, the senators wrote. And with no generics on the market, "the cost of Revlimid has remained artificially high and has actually risen 14 times since this abuse began, from $9,853 in 2010 to its current price of $18,546 for a 28-count bottle," Leahy and Grassley wrote.

If you're curious, Hugin was Celgene's CEO from 2010 to 2016.

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Speaking of unreliable blood tests

Liquid biopsies, meant to diagnose cancer with only a blood draw, are meant to be the next big thing in diagnostics. But clinicians remain a little befuddled as to just how useful such tests may be.

As Nature reports, oncologists are still chewing over a December study in which two liquid biopsy tests, one from Guardant Health and the other from Personal Genome Diagnostics, delivered widely divergent results for the same patients.

The companies have questioned the study's design and pointed out that the timing of patient tests could have skewed the results. But doctors are still skeptical.

“It may not be a perfect study, Johns Hopkins oncologist Ben Ho Park told Nature, "but they tried to open people’s eyes to the fact that there are still problems and that liquid biopsy is still in its infancy."

What a ride it's been for Solid Biosciences

Remember Solid Biosciences, the muscular dystrophy-focused company that managed to go public in January despite the 11th-hour reveal that it had run into trouble with the FDA?

Well investors eventually forgave that little hiccup and sent the company's shares as high as $33 in early March. But then a patient in Solid's clinical trial ended up in the hospital, and the FDA put a halt to the whole thing.

Now Solid is trading at around $9, a remarkable 60 percent discount to its closing price on IPO day, which was only a month and a half ago. That's more than $500 million in value, gone.

More reads

  • JP Morgan tells clients to sell a biotech it helped take public. (Bloomberg)
  • Former Insys employees agree to cooperate with the feds in kickback probe. (STAT Plus)
  • Ionis gives a lesson in financial engineering. (EP Vantage)
  • Alzheimer's biotech Alzheon files for a $81 million IPO. (Renaissance Capital)

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