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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of all the biotech news. We're taking the next two days off but will be back bright and early on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Bain is betting on biotech

Bain Capital, the private equity colossus with a famous co-founder, is looking to make some money in the life sciences. The firm is putting together a fund focused on biotech, federal filings show.

The move is little surprise, considering that last spring, Bain hired Dr. Adam Koppel, a former executive vice president at Biogen, to serve as managing director of a new biotech-focused endeavor. Koppel gets top billing on the SEC form Bain filed yesterday. (Bain declined to comment.)

The new fund launches just as money is pouring into biotech. The presidential election removed a huge risk overhang in the eyes of investors, and last week saw a record $2.7 billion flow into the industry.

Whether investor exuberance endures remains to be seen, but there’s certainly plenty of money to go around.

Old blood: A Grimm affair

Anti-aging startups seem to be borrowing from wicked queen fairy tales these days — chasing the idea that transfusions of “young” blood might reverse the aging process.

New research published in Nature Communications suggests that the opposite may be true as well: young mice which received transfusions of blood from older mice showed signs of premature aging. Specifically, they stopped making neurons in a part of the brain associated with memory formation. Old mice given young blood, by contrast, showed better muscle recovery after being injured.

Senior co-author Irina Conboy, a bioengineering professor at UC Berkeley, conducted this study in part to tear down a public conception that “young” blood might serve as a rejuvenative cure-all. 

It does seem to have positive effects. But the impact of the old blood was worse. We assume Peter Thiel is taking notes.

Read more. 

What might a Trumpified FDA look like?

Amid the global guesswork of what President-elect Donald Trump might do in his new profession, little is known about his plans for the FDA beyond a vague promise of “reform.”

But Dr. Joseph Gulfo, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has some suggestions. Chief among them is a color-coded drug approval system. Drugs approved based solely on biomarkers would get one color, while those cleared for their effect on symptoms would get another, and treatments that change the course of disease would get a third.

Under the Gulfo model, the agency would be legally required to approve drugs if they satisfied the requirements of one such group. It would then be up to physicians to decide whether to use those drugs or wait for more research that might change their color codes.

(Gulfo, it’s worth noting, had some less than friendly run-ins with the FDA when he was CEO of a company with a controversial medical device.)

What’s unclear is how Medicare and Medicaid would deal with a sudden influx of drugs that are only arguably effective. And Gulfo doesn’t explore why drug companies would shell out for costly, color-changing clinical trials when they could just run tons of TV ads for drugs approved on scant evidence.

But in the complete absence of substantive statements from the Trump camp, Gulfo’s plan is as plausible as anything else one might dream up.

Can we CRISPR a dinosaur?

no dino dna here. (flickr)

CRISPR co-creator Jennifer Doudna recently chatted with The Verge about the promise and perils of gene editing — and whether it’ll help move us in the direction of Jurassic Park. 

No, it turns out. While de-extinction efforts might be possible with animals like the woolly mammoth, which have left behind genetic code, we haven't yet found a mosquito preserved in amber that carries intact dino DNA. Genetic material is a chemical that doesn’t last 65 million years, she said. 

That said, it might be possible to delve into the genomes of amphibians and birds to piece together information about dinosaurs. 

“I don’t know how could you could get to a real dinosaur, but certainly we’ll learn a lot about the genetic traits that are encoded in DNA that give rise to some of the traits that we think dinosaurs had,” she said.

OK, but let's not forget that in Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs were able to reproduce thanks to a slice of amphibian DNA that let them swap genders. While that scenario may be far-fetched, Doudna acknowledged that CRISPR’s power does frighten her, because of “how little we really understand [about] the function of genes, especially the interactions between genes in our own genome.”

In other words, swapping out code might have unintended consequences that don’t show up for dozens of years. 

More reads

  • Biotech should cash in on its post-election bounce. (Bloomberg)
  • Eli Lilly's impending Alzheimer's disease data could have a marked effect on the whole pharma industry. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Allergan paid $125 million for Chase Pharmaceuticals and its in-development treatment for Alzheimer's disease. (Press release)
  • Shire is looking to expand the Cambridge, Mass., outpost it picked up from Baxalta. (Press release)

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Thanks for reading! Until next week,

Damian & Meghana

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