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The Readout

Good morning! Elizabeth Cooney here, sitting in for Damian Garde.
Let's get to it.

Digital health is red hot

 

The third quarter has just slipped into history, but already investment in digital health companies has blasted past last year’s 12-month numbers. The latest report from venture fund Rock Health is decidedly upbeat, a trend mirrored by Startup Health Insights. Per Rock Health, there’s a steady climb in venture dollars invested in the industry ($6.8 billion through September compared to $5.7 billion last year), and the average deal size is ballooning ($23.6 million this year vs. $16.4 million for all of last year). The biggest deals: Butterfly Network ($250 million), American Well ($291 million), 23andMe ($300 million), and Peloton Interactive ($550 million).
 
Competition from Amazon’s PillPack deal, Apple’s afib-sensing watch, and Google’s newly health-minded Nest could disrupt the sector, Rock Health says. Or it could “stoke demand and educate consumers, expanding the market for all players.” The only downside? The pace of exits — acquisitions or IPOs — is “sluggish.”  Wait til next year.

More MSK fallout, more doubts about ‘the best care’


The head of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will no longer serve on the boards of drug maker Merck or drug-development specialist Charles River Laboratories. Dr. Craig Thompson’s resignations, ProPublica and the New York Times report, follow the departure of the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jose Baselga, who stepped down after reports over industry conflicts. Thompson was paid $300,000 by Merck last year, in addition to about $6.7 million from the hospital, and $70,000 in cash plus $215,050 in stock from Charles River.
 
None of that sits well with Steven Petrow, a patient and volunteer at Sloan Kettering who asks in this First Opinion whether treatment protocols were the best available. Could those recommendations be colored by financial entanglements?”
 
Read more.

Where do biotech and physics intersect?


In the Nobel Prize, it turns out. Awarded yesterday to three physicists — Arthur Ashkin, Donna Strickland, and Gérard Mourou — the physics prize honors their transforming light into a powerful, precise tool. Here’s where biotech comes in: Ashkin developed “optical tweezers” that wield intensely focused light to grab microscopic molecules. They’ve become the workhorses of synthetic biology, as STAT’s Sharon Begley writes.

Today’s Nobel in chemistry is shared by three scientists: Frances Arnold, who conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes; George Smith, who developed a method known as phage display to evolve new proteins; and Gregory Winter, who has used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals. Enzymes are key to making drugs, the Nobel committee notes, and antibodies that have evolved via phage display can fight autoimmune diseases and, in some cases, cure metastatic cancer.

How do you gauge success in cancer treatment?


A standard way to see how well a cancer therapy works is to measure, usually in months, how long someone lives without the cancer getting worse. That’s called “progression-free survival” in the dry parlance of this sort of analysis. But that doesn’t necessarily match — or even capture — quality of life, STAT’s Ed Silverman reports.
 
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine challenges progression-free survival as a surrogate endpoint, a metric the FDA sometimes relies on to speed drug approval.
 
“The troubling fact is that we do not have strong enough evidence to show that some of these drugs can extend a patient’s life or improve their quality of life,” said Feng Xie, a study co-author and a professor at McMaster University.
 
Read more.
 

More reads

  • These cholesterol-reducers may save lives. So why aren’t heart patients getting them? (New York Times
  • What are ambulances actually chasing?: A conversation with Medicare’s new innovation chief (STAT Plus)
  • Why Congress is poised to give the drug industry a $4B windfall (Politico)
  • Glaxo ‘turns back the clock’ and resumes payments to doctors (STAT Plus)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Megan

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

STAT

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