Monday, August 28, 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.

A long-awaited royalty check

After spending more than $2.5 billion on stem cell research over more than a decade, California will finally get royalties from one of its grantees, STAT West Coast editor Charlie Piller reports. 
“The check hasn’t been drawn up yet, but when it is, it will go directly to the state’s general fund,” said Kevin McCormack, spokesman for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

And that's about all he would say. McCormack would not divulge which grantee will provide the funds or how big the check will be, and he would not project future earnings for the state from other projects.
Royalties have been one of several sore spots for the state-funded biomedical agency known as CIRM. Voters approved $3 billion in taxpayer funding back in 2004, based on promises that CIRM programs would soon generate much-needed therapies and cures, bring in millions in royalties, and vastly reduce health care costs for state residents. So far, though, it has had only a tiny handful of successes. A recent STAT examination tied that disappointing record to sluggish progress on clinical trials.

The agency plans to spend down remaining funds by 2020; its future might depend on a new ballot measure to replenish its budget. But given how far CIRM has fallen from the initial hype, most observers are skeptical that voters could be won over again.

At least 12 people are buying Elon Musk's biotech

Elon Musk, when not working on electric cars, space travel, and creative accounting, is plotting to stick machines in people’s brains. And now he’s got $27 million to do so.

Musk’s Neuralink raised a Series A from 12 investors, according to an SEC filing. The company aims to raise about $73 million more to build what Musk calls a “neural lace.” The idea is to implant a latticework of tiny electrodes into people’s brains, conceivably treating disease and, eventually, turning people into cyborgs with augmented intelligence. Musk has said a usable form of the technology is "four or five years away."

Meanwhile, he's struggling to deliver Tesla’s Model 3 sedan on time, make progress on a satellite internet business, and construct a super-speed underground train that will fold the transportation industry in on itself. So Neuralink will perhaps need a few years more. 

Anti-inflammatory appears to pack quite a punch

When Dr. Paul Ridker was designing his 10,000-strong clinical trial to test how an anti-inflammatory drug might stave off stroke and heart attack, he had a second hypothesis brewing: The same mechanism might prevent cancer, as well. 

So back in 2009 when he built the trial protocol, he brought on board an oncology review panel to study its impact on cancer. 

The result? Looks like the Novartis drug canakinumab not only lessens cardiovascular complication by 15 percent, but appears to lower the risk of lung cancer as well.

STAT chatted with Ridker, a researcher at Brigham & Women’s, about the surprise finding. 

Read more.

Biotech’s month of truth is upon us

In biotech, a fairly plodding August is about to give way to a month brimming with make-or-break clinical readouts that could roil the landscape, making some companies look wise and others look for strategic alternatives.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn whether Axovant Sciences’ drug for Alzheimer’s disease can be a product, whether Sage Therapeutics is onto something, and whether Alnylam Pharmaceuticals can perhaps become the next Vertex. Then there’s data from Insmed, Versartis, Zogenix, and Otonomy to round out September.

Flash forward to Oct. 1. How do you think we’ll look back on the data-laden month? Click to vote:

What a coup. It’s like summer 2015 all over again.

Some hits, some misses, but life goes on.

That was worse than a Hillary Clinton tweet.

More reads

  • My compulsive hair pulling and skin picking could be solved with a precision medicine approach. (STAT)
  • Peter Thiel evades safety rules by funding offshore trial of herpes vaccine. (Kaiser Health News)
  • AstraZeneca reverses stance with plan for UK investment. (Financial Times)
  • Gene therapy biotech Regenxbio buys out a partner. (Endpoints)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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