Thursday, June 14, 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.

Inside IBM Watson's health issues

IBM started its Watson Health division three years ago, promising to revolutionize medicine and employing phrases like "big data," "the cloud," and "the blockchain." But that bold promise created a rift inside the company, STAT has learned, creating roadblocks that would delay IBM's ambitious goals.

As Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz report, a contingent of IBM employees was already working with health care clients when Watson Health started promoting another cloud, creating what seemed to be duplication — even competition — between old and new guards.

“There was a lot of internal friction,” one former executive told STAT. “There were two products that did exactly the same thing, that were being sold by two different parts of the company, that had two different development roadmaps.”

Read more.

(Also: If you're a STAT Plus subscriber, you can sign up to join Casey and Ike at 12 p.m. ET today for a chat on Watson Health. If you want to become a subscriber, you can sign up here.)

Good news: Another CRISPR patent fight could be in the cards

The genome editors at UC Berkeley, on the ropes in their patent fight with the Broad Institute, are finally getting some good news: This week, they secured a CRISPR patent, and next week they're going to get another, weightier one.

As STAT's Sharon Begley reports, the first patent covers the editing of a single-stranded nucleic acid, and the second applies to CRISPR'ing anything other than a bacterial cell. That said, it's not clear whether either patent will have commercial benefits for UC — or whether any of the CRISPR-focused biotech companies will need to license them. And it's not impossible that the Broad will contest them anyway.

Read more.

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Sometimes it's good that cells eat themselves

Meet Casma Therapeutics, a biotech startup founded on the idea that turning bodily cells into mirror-gazing cannibals can treat disease.

As STAT's Elizabeth Cooney reports, it starts with the work of Dr. Beth Levine, who studies the self-eating process called autophagy at UT Southwestern. Last month, she co-authored a paper published in Nature showing that revving up levels of autophagy improved health and extended lives of the lab animals. She isolated a gene called beclin 1 that regulates how cells consume themselves.

And now Casma, launched in May with $58.5 million from Third Rock Ventures, is trying to turn that discovery into actual drugs, setting its sights on rare genetic diseases.

Read more.

What does this even mean?

Noubar Afeyan, head of a VC firm that once “evolved” its name to Flagship Pioneering, spoke with WBUR about biotech and, in the process, said Flagship is “using science that has not yet been discovered, in order to come up with treatments that have not yet been described, for diseases that are not well understood.”

If you understand how one can use science that has not yet been discovered — or whether God could create a stone He could not lift — you are more adept than all of STAT’s biotech reporters.

Anyway, Afeyan also takes issue with the word “unicorn,” which is a value-neutral term used to describe a private company worth more than $1 billion.

“This expression ‘unicorn’ is used in a derogatory way, because ‘unicorn’ is what people call things that are not real,” Afeyan said. “But I would say that a unicorn is a revolution that hasn’t yet succeeded.”

Got it.

More reads

  • The women’s libido pill is back, and so is the controversy. (Bloomberg)
  • Celgene admits ‘self-inflicted’ error over MS drug. (Financial Times)
  • Biotech executives fret over hassles and uncertainties of 'right to try.' (Forbes)
  • Topless women with company logos painted on their bodies danced at unofficial party during BIO convention. (STAT)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


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