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The Readout Damian Garde

The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference starts next week, and things are going to look a little different around here. Starting on Sunday, your daily Readout will be devoted to covering biotech's big meeting, arriving in your inbox at 4 p.m. ET with all of the relevant news and analysis coming out of San Francisco.

$74 billion is a lot of money

As you may have heard, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene have agreed to a merger in which the former will pay $74 billion for the latter, and the whole biotech industry will get reshaped in the process.

But why? The CEOs of Bristol-Myers and Celgene explained their reasoning to STAT’s Matt Herper. The gist: Bristol-Myers wants a presence in every facet of oncology, and now that will consume Celgene, “there is one company that has a leading presence in all of those areas,” CEO Giovanni Caforio said.

Who wins? We dig into that on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” our biotech podcast. Short version: It’s good for Celgene shareholders, potentially bad for the world at large.

What does this mean for the rest of biotech? Here are nine takeaways from the proposed deal, including its implications for startups, scientists, and the fight over drug prices.

Is it time for biotech’s biggest meeting to find a new home?

Here are two annual traditions in biotech: Heading to San Francisco for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, and complaining about heading to San Francisco for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

But this year, between gouging hoteliers, overcrowded meeting spaces, and mounting concerns about public safety, biotech types are wondering whether the annual trek is even worth it — or whether the organizer should move on from San Francisco.

“I’d be happy if the conference was in another location,” Baird biotech analyst Brian Skorney said. “... The conference has grown too big for its location, and that is a problem.”

The other problem, though, is that biotech’s most important meeting is contractually wedded to San Francisco for years to come, meaning disgruntled attendees will either have to get used $170 coffee or face sitting out on the biggest investor event of the year.

Read more.

CRISPR life beyond Cas9

Arbor Biotechnologies, which emerged from stealth mode less than a year ago, has found a deep-pocketed believer in its founding premise: that the world is full of microbes pumping out amazing, and potentially lucrative, proteins and other biomolecules (Cas9, anyone?) and Arbor will find them. 

On Thursday the Cambridge-based company, whose founders include CRISPR developer Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, announced a research collaboration with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to discover novel proteins including DNA-snipping endonucleases like Cas9, CRISPR's most famous enabler. Arbor will do the bench work and Vertex will pay for it. Although financial specifics weren't announced, Vertex will pay Arbor based on (unspecified) R&D and commercial milestones, as well as royalties on anything that gets commercialized. 

The goal is to develop genome-editing therapies for cystic fibrosis and four other diseases to be named later. In a statement, Vertex CSO Dr. David Altshuler sang the praises of Arbor's high-throughput screening platform, saying it would help Vertex "develop innovative gene-editing therapies.”

More reads

  • Payers expect drug prices to rise 3 percent to 5 percent annually over the next three years. (STAT Plus)
  • Big Pharma is caught between Wall Street and Trump on drug prices. (Bloomberg)
  • Biotech IPO market: Closing the books on 2018’s crazy year. (LifeSciVC)

Thanks for reading! Until Sunday,


Friday, January 4, 2019


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