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Tuesday, April 11, 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.

Beware fake news in biotech

The next time you read about a can’t-miss biotech investment opportunity on the internet, consider: Is it possible the author is a fraud with no credentials and shadowy ties to the company he covers?

Quite possible, says the SEC, which just cracked down on a ring of biotech companies, promotional firms, and freelance writers who allegedly used sites like Seeking Alpha to illegally trump up penny stocks.

Some of this is fairly obvious — most too-good-to-be-true things are just that — but the read-through is somewhat alarming. The SEC has no way of preventing scammers from pretending to be independent experts on crowd-sourced sites. And, through the anonymous magic of Twitter, such make-believe analysts can widely disseminate their propaganda in a flash. Couple that with the presence of auto-tweeting robots, and the vein of biotech news could easily get clogged with heaps of fakery.

Read more on STAT Plus.

An organ-on-chip partnership with FDA

Animal testing raises a lot of eyebrows — and not just because of ethics and welfare concerns. Using animal models is an inexact exercise, as humans often will metabolize drugs differently from rats and dogs. 

That makes a new announcement from Emulate rather intriguing: It just announced a three-year CRADA (cooperative R&D agreement) with the FDA to test out the efficacy of its organs-on-chips for toxicity screening. If the company's tech works for this purpose, drug makers could skip some of the animal testing that's now required.

Stockpiling nature's bounty

From carnivorous snails to snake venom to peanut skins, scientists collect a lot of weird specimens to evaluate for medical usefulness. We’ve picked a few odd but therapeutically intriguing collections at biomedical labs to explore.

Read more.

Why doesn't immunotherapy work for everyone?

Cancer immunotherapy has been a revelation, sparking remissions and complete responses in tumors once thought intractable — if you're among the roughly 20 percent of patients for whom such drugs actually work, that is.

With that in mind, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Memorial Sloan Kettering think they've come up with a way to figure out just who's going to respond to immunotherapies like Keytruda and Opdivo. Studying the blood of patients with melanoma, the researchers found that the presence of certain T cells correlated with tumor burden, and that patients with more tumors were less likely to respond to therapy.

The work, reported in Nature, suggests that looking at the ratio of T cell presence to tumor burden could predict whether patients will benefit from those drugs — which could save time and, considering the cost of cancer therapy, a great deal of money.

More reads

  • China emerges as a powerhouse for biotech drugs. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Is Axovant’s new CEO worth $400 million? (STAT Plus)
  • Critics worry faster FDA drug reviews could compromise safety. (Boston Globe)
  • Geron survives, for now, but the jury at J&J is still out on the future of imetelstat. (Endpoints)

Have a news tip or comment you want to send us?

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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