Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of the latest in biotech. On Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

A wide-reaching bill to lower drug pricing

Senator Al Franken and nearly two dozen other lawmakers have slapped a sweeping bill on the table to reform drug pricing in America. 

The bill, called the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, includes provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate prices and removing tax breaks for pharma advertising. Fifteen advocacy groups are backing this bill; all politicians behind it are Democrats, save one — the ever-independent Bernie Sanders.

“No American should have to skip meals or turn off their heat in order to afford needed medications,” Franken said. 

Read more on STAT Plus. 

The PBMs strike back

PhRMA put out a report this week slamming the negotiation practices of pharmacy benefit managers and health plans — and accusing them of leaving too many patients facing steep bills. 

Predictably, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association promptly fired back, citing CMS statistics to show out-of-pocket drug costs have dropped substantially. Also predictably, the trade group (which represents PBMs) passed the buck back to the drug makers. 

“The simplest, most obvious way for drug makers to reduce costs and improve access is to cut their prices,” the group said in a statement.

Peter Thiel’s latest biotech bet

Trump adviser and ephebic blood enthusiast Peter Thiel has backed another biotech company. This time it’s a secretive oncology firm called Compass Therapeutics, which has a bunch of preclinical projects and the foresight to trademark its own catchphrase, as the Boston Business Journal reports.

With so few details available, it remains unclear what attracted Thiel to Compass. Thankfully, we can refer back to the ur-text of Thiel’s biotech fascination, a 2015 sit-down with MIT Technology Review in which he explained that he likes companies that can make the chaotic world of biology look more akin to the simpler space of software.

“I would be very nervous to invest in a company where it gets pitched as a series of contingencies that ‘this has to work, and this has to work, and this has to work,’” Thiel said.

That might seem to rule out literally every drug development company, but then AbbVie paid $10 billion for his last biotech gamble, so maybe he’s onto something.

Pumping the brakes on the CAR-T race

Hey, did you hear? Novartis snuck up on Kite Pharma, and now it leads the CAR-T race that once looked like Juno Therapeutics’ to lose.

But does that, like, matter?

Debating just who will come first in CAR-T is a time-tested pastime in biotech circles. But considering the differences between each contender, it's unclear whether quote-unquote winning is really all that important. 

Read more in STAT Plus.

More reads

  • Tom Price defends proposed cuts at NIH, citing "indirect" expenses. (STAT)
  • GlaxoSmithKline sets out to crack "undruggable" targets, with a little help from Warp Drive Bio. (FierceBiotech)
  • Arizona is first state to pass a law allowing drug makers to promote off-label uses. (STAT Plus)
We inexplicably called Dr. Stephen Hauser by the wrong first name — Joseph — in yesterday's Readout. We are puzzled by and regret the error.

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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