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Monday, July 24, 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.

What to watch for in biotech earnings season

July marks the return of a long-running drama with an expansive cast of characters who get wantonly bumped off in an amoral quest for dominance.

We mean, of course, biotech earnings season. And here are some key narratives to keep an eye on during this week’s calls:

For Gilead Sciences, “What are you going to buy?” pretty much goes without saying, but investors will also be curious to see how the company’s reliable and under-discussed HIV business can keep the lights on while hepatitis C revenues decline. (Here's one positive sign: Gilead's new HIV drug showed strong results in a study released early this morning.)

Over at Amgen, the big question is whether that oft-discussed cholesterol drug is selling better now that we know its long-term effects. Meanwhile, Biogen and Alexion, each with a new CEO, are doing ominous-sounding “strategic updates” during their earnings calls, and while neither is likely to be earth-shattering, investors will be curious as how the two stalwarts in transition are thinking about the future.

We’ll be keeping close tabs on these and other plotlines all week, culminating in a live chat on Friday for STAT Plus subscribers. Not yet subscribed? We have a special rate for you.

When an authority orders you to ignore authorities...

Science is all about precision. But a little rule breaking doesn't hurt, either.

So says none other than geneticist George Church.

Speaking to STAT's Ike Swetlitz last Friday, during a break at an MIT conference on defiance, Church said he likes to cultivate dissent in his own lab, which is known for pushing the boundaries so far that it has an in-house ethicist to weigh in on risky experiments.

His advice to those working in his lab? "Don't listen to authority, including and especially me. Question everything that might be holding you back."

Using iPS cells to model a beating heart

Rare cardiovascular diseases are bedeviling to study: One cannot simply biopsy a beating heart to learn why it has gone mechanically awry. 

That’s why induced pluripotent stem cells are proving incredibly useful in early stage rare disease research. These cells can be transmogrified into a beating proto-heart, for instance, for preclinical study.

As STAT's Rebecca Robbins found when she visited a lab in San Diego, the technique is now helping advance the understanding of conditions like Danon disease — a rare cardiovascular disease that weakens the heart muscles substantially.

Read more on STAT Plus.

Actually, mega-mergers are good for R&D

So argues a pair of partners at Boston Consulting Group, who looked at years of data and came to a conclusion that contrasts with conventional wisdom — and some earlier studies.

The key, they argue, is measuring success by looking at actual FDA-approved drugs, not just R&D budgets or number of programs in development. By that metric, seismic mergers like Pfizer-Wyeth or Merck-Schering-Plough actually improve productivity, in part because the disruption of M&A often leads to less-promising projects getting the ax.

Read more.

More reads

  • A drug maker spends big in Washington to make itself heard. (New York Times)
  • Beyond the nasty needle: Trying to make vaccines more comfy and convenient. (NPR)
  • Gilead's new HIV pill suppresses virus at the same rate (statistically speaking) as GSK's version. (STAT Plus)
  • A former biotech executive who's living with terminal cancer wants to reset expectations about new cancer treatments. (Business Insider)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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