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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

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AstraZeneca's impressive Tagrisso data

AstraZeneca abruptly ended testing of its targeted lung cancer drug trial in April, citing its “overwhelming benefit” in patients with early stage disease. Now we know why: The company's results are in, and they’re impressive. In fact, they’re the strongest result ever reported for a clinical trial of this type, STAT’s Adam Feuerstein writes.

After two years of follow-up, 90% of lung patients given Tagrisso after surgery were still alive, with no tumor recurrence. That’s double the benefit seen in patients given placebo.

“Results like this are so profound for patients,” said Roy Herbst of Yale School of Medicine and the lead physician on the Tagrisso study. “We set out to show a 30% improvement in disease recurrence. I would have been happy to have seen a 40% or even 60% improvement but to actually show 83% — I almost couldn’t believe it.”

Read more.

What happens after we get a coronavirus vaccine?

Can virtual medical meetings replace the real thing? And wasn’t Amazon supposed to disrupt health care? 

We discuss all that and more this week on “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we discuss this weekend’s big oncology meeting, previewing key presentations at the online-only conference. Then, STAT’s Helen Branswell joins us to break down the public health challenges that would follow the development of an effective coronavirus vaccine. 

Later, our colleague Casey Ross calls in to talk about Haven, the much-discussed health care venture backed by Amazon, which just lost its CEO. Finally, STAT Executive Editor Rick Berke joins us to remember Larry Kramer, the celebrated HIV/AIDS activist who died this week at 84.

Listen here.

Covid-19 patent pool? No thanks, says pharma

The WHO wants to build a voluntary pool of patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that might help accelerate the development of Covid-19 therapies, vaccines, and diagnostics. The idea is geared, in particular, toward helping developing countries keep the novel coronavirus in check.

The world’s biggest drug makers, however, are not likely interested, STAT’s Ed Silverman writes.

“At this point in time, I think it’s nonsense, and… it’s also dangerous,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. Companies are investing billions — and, as AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot put it, if the resulting intellectual property isn’t protected, “there is no incentive for anybody to innovate.”

The WHO effort is set to launch on Friday.

Read more. 

Another billion-dollar buyout dream comes to naught

Cancer drug developer Iovance Biotherapeutics has, in valuation terms, been one of the non-coronavirus winners of 2020, reaching a market value of nearly $5 billion on speculation that a larger company might want to buy it.

Then, yesterday, that speculation dissipated as Iovance moved to raise $500 million in a stock sale. Companies in the midst of negotiating a high-dollar buyout don’t tend to sell shares for cash in the process, so the rumored pending acquisition, reported by Bloomberg in February, probably isn’t happening. Iovance fell 15% on the announcement.

This is something of a trope in biotech, one that happened most recently with BioHaven in 2019. Investors get convinced a pocket-lining acquisition is just days away and bid up a company’s stock price. And then executives, who know developing drugs is a cash-intensive proposition, sell some of that suddenly valuable stock to improve their balance sheets. 

Will DCVC really raise a $275 million fund?

Pandemic-driven recession be damned: Venture firm DCVC is pushing forth with efforts to raise $275 million for a bio-centric fund, according to a regulatory filing. The firm aims to fund computational biotech and computational agtech startups, offering seed and Series A investments in the range of $5 to $10 million. 

Given the current financial uncertainties, do you think DCVC will be able to successfully raise that sum from pension funds and the like? 

Public markets have stabilized a bit, so yes.

No. Venture fundraising will invariably slow.

More reads

  • Big gene therapy names line up behind experimental Covid-19 vaccine. (STAT)
  • Orpheris kickstarts Covid-19 cytokine storm efficacy test. (FierceBiotech)
  • Antibody tests point to lower death rate for the coronavirus than first thought. (NPR)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,

Friday, May 29, 2020


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