Thursday, February 23, 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, visit STAT. On Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.


What will become of Bristol-Myers?

Poor, beleaguered Bristol-Myers Squibb, with activists on multiple fronts, may look like a very different company this time next year, if indeed it’s a company at all.

Tuesday’s revelation that octogenarian corporate raider Carl Icahn has taken an interest in the company launched a thousand ships of rumor, and we want to hear what you think the future holds.

What’s going to happen to Bristol-Myers?

A breakup, a la Abbott and AbbVie
Pfizer buys it
Gilead Sciences buys it

All eyes on Axovant in Alzheimer’s

With last week’s ahead-of-schedule (if unsurprising) failure of a Merck-invented Alzheimer’s treatment, the attention of the industry now shifts to Axovant Sciences as it waits for late-stage data on its much-debated drug.

Analysts are running out of superlatives to describe the stakes for Axovant, which is either sitting on a multibillion-dollar home run or a dud that will burn billions from its market cap and sway the whole industry downward.

But Axovant CEO Vivek Ramaswamy doesn’t seem to be sweating, instead outlining how his company is preparing for success and evening weighing in on just how the startup will price its prized asset if and when it wins approval.

Read more in STAT Plus.

Ruminations on druggability

It just might be “our own orthodoxy” that’s holding us back from uncovering a panoply of potential new medications, writes Atlas Venture’s Michael Gilman. Are there ways to manipulate small molecules — “this devil we know,” he says — to do new things? 

One way, he suggests, is to skip protein targets and start creating small molecule drugs that instead impact the RNA that encodes them instead. There are a handful of antibiotics that work in this manner — binding to RNA, as opposed to proteins, to kill bacteria.

“Can we slip the surly bonds of earth, reject our dogma about what small molecules can and cannot do, and point our powerful drug discovery toolkit at RNA instead of proteins to access a new universe of biology?” Gilman writes. 

Trump is doing ‘a reasonably good job’

Those are the words of Allergan CEO Brent Saunders, who was quickly interrupted by Fox Business’ Neil Cavuto, who of course seized upon “reasonably,” which then led Saunders to pivot back to a more comfortable talking point, leaving only a smirk to signal that he’d ever been in danger.

It was pro stuff.

But parsing Saunders’ statements is interesting. He complimented Trump, but only for “surrounding himself with some really talented people.” He said he respects the president but not without noting that “I always respect the office of the president.”

This is hardly a scathing rebuke, but Saunders was the only Big Pharma CEO who weighed in on Trump’s immigration ban, and he has long been willing to stand on his own among industry leaders. In the context of almost universal silence of his peers, one might see Saunders’ words as the closest pharma has come to challenging the president.


More reads

  • Gene therapy and the Cell Atlas make the list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2017. (MIT Tech Review)
  • Sage Therapeutics takes investors on a wild ride as CEO talks up brain drugs. (Forbes)
  • Annoying, disgusting, effective: Pharma TV character actors embrace quirkiness at every turn. (Ad Age)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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