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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Fecal transplants could improve cancer drug efficacy

Although immunotherapies like Keytruda and Opdivo can be potent for some patients, they fail about 70% of the time. But transplants of fecal microbiota could help boost their efficacy, according to a small new study published in Science.

Researchers transplanted feces from seven people who responded to checkpoint inhibitors to 16 people with skin cancer who didn’t, STAT’s Kate Sheridan writes. Six of the patients responded to Keytruda after receiving the transplant — meaning their cancers either stopped progressing, shrank noticeably, or disappeared. 

Researchers hope that human excrement transplant — FMT — won’t be the ultimate modality by which to improve immunotherapy. 

“I hope, in the future, it’s not FMT. I hope in the future that patients will be treated either with specific bugs or specific bacterial products,” the study’s lead investigator told STAT. “I don’t think the future of cancer treatment will be FMT.” 

Read more.

Farewell to Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier

Storied Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier is stepping down as CEO, the company announced Thursday. He’s been one of the most influential pharma leaders in recent years — notably having resigned from a Trump administration advisory panel on manufacturing after the president chose not to denounce white nationalism. 

Frazier plans to remain the company’s executive chairman for some time, and will be replaced by Merck’s CFO Robert Davis. But there is probably no CEO in the pharmaceutical industry who can fill Frazier’s shoes, STAT’s Matthew Herper writes — as a spokesman or as a symbol for medical innovation. 

Read more.

Is consumer DNA testing a good business? 

Are Covid-19 vaccines interchangeable? And how do you IQ-test an artificial intelligence?

We discuss all that and more this week on “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we recap a busy week of news, featuring 23andMe's move to go public through a blank-check company, Merck CEO Ken Frazier's retirement after three decades at the drug maker, and how the future of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s disease drug got a little more complicated.

Then, Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, joins us to weigh in on the bounty of recent Covid-19 vaccine data from Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and AstraZeneca. Finally, STAT's Casey Ross calls in to discuss his investigation into the FDA's chaotic approach to approving medical products that use artificial intelligence.

Read more.

23andMe goes public, with Virgin's help

23andMe is going public — but it’s not taking the standard IPO route. It’s happening by way of a special purpose acquisition corporation sponsored by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, in a deal valuing the company at $3.5 billion. The deal will result in a huge cash infusion for 23andMe. The time’s ripe, per CEO Anne Wojcicki, for the company “to really put our foot on the gas and go.” 

Both Wojcicki and Branson chatted with STAT about why the company’s jumping into the public markets, through a SPAC no less — and why the valuation is at such a premium. 

Read more. And more

More reads

  • Johnson & Johnson submits application for Covid-19 vaccine to FDA (STAT)
  • Covid-19 vaccines: acting on the evidence. (Nature Medicine)
  • Roche's Covid-19 diagnostics boosted 2020 sales despite other testing losses. (FierceBiotech)
  • Breast cancer tops lung cancer as most diagnosed cancer in the world, new report says. (CNN)

Thanks for reading! More next week,

Damian

Friday, February 5, 2021

STAT

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