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The Readout Damian Garde

Does pharma’s bad break have legs?

There’s a specter haunting the drug industry, one that stretches beyond what has been a disappointing earnings season for the sector’s leading lights.

As STAT’s Matt Herper writes, underlying those underwhelming sales numbers is a growing concern that pharma just won’t be able to grow like it used to. The problem is that the year-on-year price hikes that for so long sustained the drug business may be a thing of the past. And the numbers aren’t moving in pharma’s direction.

In the third quarter of last year, list prices — the ones set by drug companies — rose by 4.1 percent, but net prices — the money pharma actually collects — fell by 5.1 percent. That disparity could be a bad omen for the industry.

Read more.

Biosimilars, explained


(Alex Hogan/STAT)

Whether you’ve ever pondered why a long-promised biosimilars revolution never came, puzzled over why Humira ads are still on your TV, or wondered just what a “biosimilar” even is, we have answers for you.

The word “biosimilar” gets thrown around a lot nowadays, so we figured we’d explain what they are, what they are not, and why they’ve sparked a legal dispute with billions of dollars on the line.

The gist is that biosimilars are cheaper versions of blockbuster drugs that can be sold as soon as those blockbusters lose patent protection. But while they’re conceptually similar to generics — the low-cost pills available in pharmacies around the world — there’s vastly important distinction: Biosimilars mimic biologic drugs, which are crafted from living cells, and that means they’re not technically identical the way off-brand atorvastatin is identical to Lipitor. 

It also means actually selling them in the U.S. is harder than you might think.

Watch the video.

Red tape, rare disease, and a polar vortex


Charlie and Kolton Martin (Courtesy Alyssa Martin)

Menkes disease is a devastating disorder. A rare inherited condition affecting copper metabolism, it causes neurodegeneration and often kills affected boys by age 3. But there's hope that injecting Menkes boys with an experimental medication may help some of them — if they're treated early enough.

That's why clinicians believed it was so crucial to start early treatment for Charlie and Kolton Martin, two twin boys born in Iowa in December. But the process involved in obtaining the experimental drug thought to be their best shot turned out to be harder than anyone imagined.

STAT's Rebecca Robbins has the story of the Iowa clinicians who scrambled and overcame obstacle after obstacle — including last week's polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting across the Midwest — to try to save the Martin boys.

Read more.

This may not surprise you

Yesterday, this biotech newsletter asked its subscribers a question: Does pharma has the right to charge what it pleases for drugs with roots in federally funded research? The majority said yes, which, again, is perhaps not a surprise considering the entire sample size is subscribers to a biotech newsletter.

But the split was not as dramatic as you might have assumed.

A full 36 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “Taxpayers fund the basic science of most drugs, and shouldn’t be on the hook to pay steep prices for the end product.” The other 64 percent contend that because “companies shoulder the financial burden” of turning discoveries into actual drugs, “premium pricing is justified.”

The result was perhaps to be expected, but the details suggest that even within the drug industry, there’s an argument to be had.

More reads

  • Sanders accuses a drug maker of ‘immoral exploitation’ for the price of a rare disease drug. (STAT Plus)
  • The list of shame no biopharma wants to join. (EP Vantage)
  • Congress wants these 7 drug company CEOs to testify about prices. (STAT)
  • U.K. must issue compulsory license for Vertex drug, lawmaker says. (STAT Plus)
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb shares pop on report activist investor has taken a stake. (CNBC)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Tuesday, February 5, 2019


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