Sponsored by  


The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Merck’s longtime R&D head is running a startup with a powerful microscope

Roger Perlmutter, who spent the better part of a decade running Merck’s research division, has taken the top job at a 50-person startup using some Nobel Prize-winning microscope technology to, as Perlmutter put it, “make movies” about the inner workings of human cells.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper reports, the company is called Eikon Therapeutics, and it’s using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to track the movements of individual proteins in living cells. Perlmutter, who joined the company as CEO, said the ability to gaze in detail at the process of biochemistry will help Eikon discover new medicines.

Perlmutter, who is 68, is taking a rare path for veterans of major pharmaceutical companies. Prior to his stint at Merck, which employs some 74,000, he ran research at Amgen, which employs 22,000. Eikon is comparatively tiny and likely years away from having a drug to test in humans. 

Read more.

It helps to have a Covid vaccine

One by one, the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have reported disappointing financial results, as the pains of the pandemic have stung their otherwise reliable business of selling medicine. Then there’s Pfizer, whose quarterly results beat Wall Street’s expectations by about $1 billion and raised 2021 expectations by more than $11 billion.

The driving factor, as you might assume, was Comirnaty, the company’s BioNTech-partnered Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer made about $3.5 billion on the vaccine in the first quarter and now expects to bank $26 billion for the full year, a projection Mizuho analyst Vamil Divan punctuated with no fewer than three exclamation points.

That puts Comirnaty on pace to become pharma’s fastest-ever launch and biggest-ever product. It also leaves analysts with a few pressing questions. Namely: How long will Covid-19 vaccine sales stay superlative, and just what is Pfizer going to do with all that unexpected revenue?

The latest test of FDA’s flexibility

For months, ChemoCentryx has told investors that it has had a healthy back-and-forth with the FDA about avacopan, the rare-disease treatment that could become the company’s first approved product. Yesterday, the world got to see the FDA’s side of the story, and the two parties don’t appear to have been on the same page.

In briefing documents released ahead of avacopan’s approval date, FDA reviewers took issue with ChemoCentryx’s trial design, use of statistics, and characterization of the drug’s safety. Most alarming, the FDA said it made the issues clear to ChemoCentryx over the course of three meetings, and yet the company persisted with its own plan.

News of the documents roughly halved ChemoCentryx’s stock price yesterday, injecting sudden doubt into what had appeared to be a likely approval for avacopan as a treatment for a rare autoimmune disease called AAV. It also comes at a time when the FDA has appeared more stringent with new drug applications. On Thursday, a panel of independent advisers to the FDA will vote on whether avacopan should be approved, and the agency is expected to make its decision by July 7.

The Senate Democrat raking in pharma money

Sen. Bob Menendez isn’t up for re-election until 2024, but that hasn’t stopped pharmaceutical executives from pouring money into his campaign, a sign of the New Jersey Democrat’s influence over his party’s ability to pass drug pricing legislation.

As STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports, Menendez has received at least $1,000 each from the CEOs of eight drug companies, including Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly, which is notable in an industry in which executives rarely make personal contributions to individual candidates. He has also received contributions from drug company PACs and the lobbying group PhRMA.

Homing in on Menendez makes sense given his record of skepticism on the issue of regulating drug prices. And given the Democrats’ slim Senate majority, peeling off even one potential vote could doom any bill pharma considers unfriendly.

Read more.

More reads

  • Affinia Therapeutics raises $110 million for gene therapy treatments. (Boston Globe)
  • How a startup beat health care heavyweights to win Medicare’s AI contest. (STAT+)
  • CureVac says mass vaccine rollout thrown into doubt by U.S. restrictions. (Reuters)
  • STAT+ Conversations: An update from STAT’s Pharmalot. (STAT+)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Facebook   Twitter   YouTube   Instagram

1 Exchange Pl, Suite 201, Boston, MA 02109
©2021, All Rights Reserved.
I no longer wish to receive STAT emails
Update Email Preferences | Contact Us