The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Today begins the search for our fifth class of STAT Wunderkinds: the postdocs, residents, and other young scientists who are already doing groundbreaking work — and who will be worth watching in the years to come. Have someone in mind? You can find our nomination form here.

Promising results for a genetically targeted leukemia drug

Syndax Pharmaceuticals released new data this morning showing that its experimental drug, called SNDX-5613, induced complete remissions in patients with advanced leukemia harboring two different genetic alterations.

As STAT's Adam Feuerstein reports, the Syndax drug belongs to an emerging class of so-called menin inhibitors, which have the potential to become effective treatments for certain types of genetically defined leukemia that do not respond well to currently approved medicines. These drugs work by blocking the interaction of two proteins that prevents bone marrow cells from developing or differentiating into healthy cells. 

Read more.

The other, other Covid antibody company has raised nearly $500 million in a year

Adagio Therapeutics, founded by the outspoken biotech entrepreneur Tillman Gerngross, is betting that vaccines alone won’t be enough to end the Covid-19 pandemic. And, considering the nearly $500 million Adagio has raised since July, the idea has more than a few proponents.

As the Boston Globe reports, Adagio’s latest round amounts to $336 million, led by RA Capital Management and looping in previous investors including Fidelity, OrbiMed, and Polaris Partners. That follows a $50 million round over the summer and a $80 million fundraise in November. 

What they’re buying into is Adagio’s plot to develop a one-dose antibody therapy that could both keep Covid-19 patients out of the hospital and boost the effectiveness of available vaccines. Adagio, which spun out of Gerngross’s Adimab last year, is enrolling a worldwide trial to determine whether its under-the-skin injection can keep patients with moderate Covid-19 from getting sicker. 

Consumer genomics jumps the shark

If you’ve ever wanted to own an NFT of famed geneticist’s George Church’s genome, that is soon to be a thing you can do.

Nebula Genomics, a consumer testing company Church co-founded in 2018, will hold an auction for “a high-res artistic representation of his genome and likeness,” in the form of a non-fungible token, or NFT. The highest bidder will then technically own that representation — although as with NFTs of tweets, NBA highlights, and digital art, the operative definition of “own” is limited to basically saying the thing belongs to you. (Also you can already download Church’s genome for free.)

Despite appearances, this is not an of-the-moment way for a private company to raise money. Nebula has promised to donate its cut of the proceeds to charity, and it expects Church to do the same with his share.

But the stunt, and Nebula as a whole, presents something of an object lesson in market saturation for consumer genomics. Way back in 2018, Nebula’s business revolved around a cryptocurrency, traded on the blockchain, that entitled its holders to free genomic sequencing. Today, Nebula’s website makes no mention of those tokens. Instead, the company is auctioning an NFT to stand out in a world where simply telling people about their genomes has been pretty much commoditized.

What’s $500 between a patient and a massive insurance company?

The latest front in the ongoing fight over the power of PBMs centers on a $500 gift card, offered to patients in exchange for switching psoriasis medicines.

As STAT’s Ed Silverman reports, dozens of patient advocacy groups see that seemingly small incentive as a gross overreach on the part of powerful pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, one that could disempower doctors and threaten patient health.

It began when Cigna, an insurance giant with its own pharmacy services business, removed Novartis’s psoriasis treatment Cosenytx from some of its formularies. Many patients stayed on the drug anyway, so to entice them to switch to another, Cigna offered a $500 debit card in exchange. Doctors, patients, and pharmaceutical companies have long bemoaned the shadowy practice by which drugs end up on or off formularies, but Cigna’s move stands out as a particularly galling evolution, advocates said.

“They’re paying off the patients,” said Mark Lebwohl, dean for clinical therapeutics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “It’s the first I’ve ever seen this done and it’s egregious, just awful,”

Read more.

More reads

  • FTC’s challenge to Illumina’s vertical merger with Grail is all wrong. (STAT)
  • CureVac’s shot could arrive just in time. (Bloomberg)
  • A new book traces the roots of the opioid crisis through the secretive Sackler family. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


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