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Tuesday, February 6, 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.

Where are the sea turtles?

In 2008, China bet big on a plan to bring home its most talented expats working and teaching abroad in biopharma and other scientific fields. Among the goals: To turbo-charge a national biotech sector that had long been punching below its weight.

Now, 10 years later, China's biotech sector is thriving. But the recruitment program, called Thousand Talents, hasn't lived up to its initial goals. The leading Chinese-born lights of places like Pfizer and Harvard have for the most part stayed put. Why? It's a hard sell to give up tenure or an established job in the U.S. in exchange for uncertainty of returning to China as a so-called “sea turtle,” STAT's Rebecca Robbins reports.

Read more on how the program's evolved to try to change that.

What's this 'tumor mutation burden' everyone suddenly cares about?

If you followed the whole back-and-forth about Bristol-Myers Squibb's latest immuno-oncology data, you probably noticed people debating the value of something called "tumor mutation burden." What's that?

Basically it's a measure of how unique a patient's cancer is, and that's important because, the thinking goes, the more mutations a tumor cell carries, the more likely it is to be susceptible to immunotherapy.

Bristol-Myers' is betting a lot on the idea, but it's yet to be unquestionably confirmed in a large trial. Here's a rundown of how TMB works, what it's done so far, and what might be in store for the future.

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RIP capitalism

The Dow, a semi-arbitrary grouping of 30 stocks, had a bad day yesterday, and so, too, did biotech, with the major indices falling about 4 percent and waving farewell to those all-time highs they had only just met.

This hurts for the more than a dozen biotech companies that were trading close to their 52-week highs just last week, a group that includes Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Sage Therapeutics, ImmunoGen, and Alkermes, all of which underperformed the sector at large. And it could conceivably change the IPO timelines of some of the startups waiting in the wings of Wall Street.

But otherwise, like, sometimes stocks just go down? Maybe next time don't make hats.

Two questions for your friends at Gilead

Two important things to watch for tonight after market close, when Gilead Sciences provides fourth-quarter 2017 earnings and offers financial guidance for 2018:

  • The sell-side consensus estimate for 2018 hepatitis C sales is $5.2 billion. Investors are more bearish, with recent buy-side surveys coming back with a consensus estimate closer to $4.5 billion. Meanwhile, AbbVie's competing therapy, Mavyret, is rapidly changing the market.
  • Will Gilead walk back expectations for the commercial launch of its CAR-T therapy Yescarta? The sell-side, ever optimistic, is currently forecasting 2018 Yescarta sales of $180 million, despite anecdotal evidence that hospitals are finding reimbursement and treatment of patients slow going.

You're gonna like the way you look

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Bluebird Bio CEO — ahem, Chief Bluebird — Nick Leschley kept his word on that Super Bowl bet with Spark Therapeutics, which means a donation to a charity from both companies and an ill-fitting aesthetic departure for a man with an uncommon sense of brand loyalty.

More reads

  • A compromise ‘right to try’ bill proceeds with help from FDA, but could be a hard sell. (STAT Plus)
  • Gene therapy pioneer Dr. James Wilson published another paper warning of toxicities tied to commonly used delivery technology. (Cell)
  • New rules will change how research on humans is disclosed. (Wall Street Journal)
  • With Celgene buyout, Juno CEO Hans Bishop set for monster payout of $287 million. (FiercePharma)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian

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