Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, your daily source for news in biotech. Need more? Visit and follow us on Twitter.

Consider the Waksal

Sam Waksal, once carted away to federal prison, could see his latest brainchild grow into a Wall Street success. (ADAM ROUNTREE/GETTY IMAGES)

Remember Sam Waksal, the well-spoken biotech entrepreneur whose disregard for the rules landed him in federal prison? Well he’s back. Sort of.

Kadmon, a biotech Waksal founded post-incarceration, is expected to go public in a $100 million IPO this week. The terms of Waksal’s old insider trading conviction mean he can’t run the company, which has run up huge debts to stay afloat, but insiders say it irreversibly bears his mark.

So is Wall Street ready to forgive Waksal’s past misdeeds? Or do investors just have remarkably short memories?

Read more.

Will pharma be on the hot seat at the DNC?

We’ve been seeing a rash of pharmaceutical ads during this month’s political conventions. A recent example: Pfizer’s full-page advertisement in the New York Times Monday, which reminds the public that “the race to find new medicine is always a marathon.”

“I think they feel defensive,” said John Rother, CEO of the bipartisan National Coalition in Healthcare, which has been pressing to lower drug prices. “I think they’re quite well aware that the public is strongly unhappy with what’s been happening to pharmaceutical prices.”

You couldn't blame pharma for trying to get ahead of populist rhetoric at the conventions — like the ringing declaration last night from Bernie Sanders that "the greed of drug companies must end." But a Pfizer spokeswoman tells STAT the newspaper ad is part of a broader campaign, not tied to the political cycle.

In any case, the greed-bashing might not run through the whole convention; Politico’s gotten wind that Hillary Clinton (who, of course, has taken quite a lot of pharma donations) will focus more on general themes of how health care has shaped her as a person and politician. 

Rother, for his part, isn't bothering to rev up his drug pricing campaign at the conventions. Instead, the coalition focuses on lobbying on the Hill. That's more productive, he said: "You get people who can actually do something." 

How bugs get super

The superbugs are growing in strength and it's our fault. (Hyacinth Empinado/STAT)

Despite our best efforts, we're losing the battle against bacteria, which are gradually adapting to our weaponry.

But how do run-of-the-mill bugs become drug-resistant super strains? Learn more here.

So hard to say goodbye

Yesterday, Tobira Therapeutics disclosed that its in-development treatment for a prevalent liver disease failed in a clinical trial. In the same breath, the company said it saw enough promise to move into phase 3.

Tobira’s friends on Wall Street disagreed, sending the company’s value plummeting. And John LaMattina, former head of R&D at Pfizer, tweeted that Tobira’s drug “would be killed at a bigger biopharma with such data.”

And, yeah, probably. But how do you decide when to pull the plug on a program?

“Kill your darlings” has gradually devolved from a misattributed quote to a startup axiom to an unfortunate feature film. But the cliché's persistence is a testament to the fact it’s dangerous to wed oneself to a bad idea. Google X, America’s moonshot factory, is so enamored with the idea that it doles out bonuses for employees who cut the cord on meager projects before they get too expensive.

It’s a neat idea, but in biotech, where so many startups have but a handful of darlings to begin with, such an approach could mean kill your company.

DNC fact check: Human genome edition

In a rousing call to unity and common purpose at the DNC, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker declared that "rugged individualism did not map the human genome."

Well, sort of.

The collaborative federal Human Genome Project was essential. But the rugged individualism of  J. Craig Venter sure didn't hurt.

That's a new one

Companies come up with loads of reasons for delaying drug data. Sometimes shipments get frozen, or patients get the wrong drug. And sometimes the line just goes dead.

TauRx, a company slated to present data from two trials this week, came up with a novel reason: Results from its trial in a rare neurological disorder “will be delayed for a few weeks in order to permit the company to protect intellectual property arising from the ongoing analysis of the patient data.”


Who knows. The company declined to provide further information and referred to its original statement.

Importantly, TauRx’s most widely anticipated data, from a late-stage trial in Alzheimer’s disease, is still on track to read out on Wednesday, the company said.

More reads

  • Kite Pharma, a pioneer in turning patients' own cells into cancer killers, licensed some off-the-shelf CAR-T technology. (Press release)
  • A big bet: Can Editas Medicine make its gene editing technology work? (MIT Technology Review)
  • PhRMA has been bashing price gougers, but just accepted two of them into the trade group. (STAT)
  • Sequencing effort in Pakistan identifies a slew of mutations possibly responsible for intellectual disability. (Molecular Psychiatry)


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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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