Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of the latest in biotech. For more in-depth coverage of the biopharma world, subscribe to STAT PlusOn Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

Bristol-Myers probably isn’t getting bought — but it’s not digging in, either

As you might have read on Twitter yesterday, a loosely sourced story claimed the world’s biggest drug makers are kicking the tires on Bristol-Myers Squibb, and it was apparently credible enough to move the stock up more than 3 percent.

These rumors come and go, and the thesis is usually the same: Bristol-Myers, among the smaller members of the Big Pharma club, is more likely to be bought than do the buying. Such reports are always wrong, right up until the second they’re right, so drawing broad conclusions in either direction is always foolish. 

But! Here’s an interesting note, courtesy of EvercoreISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum: Bristol-Myers is not at all set up to fight off a takeover. 

Unlike most publicly traded companies, Bristol-Myers doesn’t stagger its board seats, meaning all of its directors have to run for re-election each year. And it doesn’t have a poison pill plan, under which the company could dissuade an acquirer by diluting share value.

That means “they’re very shareholder friendly,” Schoenebaum said in an address to investors.  “This is not a company that would need to be bullied into doing the right thing. This is a company that would do the right thing, period, if the opportunity existed.”

So there’s that.

Making biological sense of mental illness

(eros dervishi)

There’s been a renaissance of precision therapies in fields like cancer and heart disease,  but the field of psychiatry remains leagues behind.

Why has innovation stalled?

The root cause, of course, is the complexity of the brain. The biology behind maladies of the mind is tricky to unspool — and without proper biomarkers to help identify multigenic diseases like schizophrenia and autism, it’s tough to create meaningful new therapies.

Still, there are glimmers of hope, as drug makers like Novartis reenter the fray. 

Read more.

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Another Alzheimer’s drug failed

This time it belonged to Merck, which pulled the plug on a late-stage trial of verubecestat after noticing it had “virtually no chance of finding a positive clinical effect.”

But verubecestat, an amyloid-related therapy, isn’t dead. The failed trial targeted patients with mild forms of Alzheimer’s; Merck is still at work on a study on early-stage patients, and that will read out in 2019.

That happens to be the same year we’ll hear about Biogen’s amyloid antibody and another BACE inhibitor from AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly.

In the meantime, get ready for Axovant.

This week in genome editing...

After a year of careful deliberation, a panel of 22 expert geneticists, doctors, and bioethicists have concluded — among other things — that germline editing of human matter can be contemplated. And even tried. 

Elsewhere in genetic tinkering, registration is open for the second meeting of the Synthetic Genome Project. The public is invited to listen in on May 9 and 10, as scientists involved in the project discuss their plan to create human genomes from scratch.

That's a welcome change from the group's inaugural meeting, a closed door affair, which caused quite the kerfuffle, if you recall.

More reads

  • President Donald Trump is woefully unpopular among biotech executives, according to a survey. (Endpoints)
  • Miragen Therapeutics went public without an IPO, executing a reverse merger with a publicly traded diagnostics company that hit the skids. (Press release)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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