Friday, October 7, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Good morning, and welcome to your daily roundup of biotech news and analysis. Check out the rest of STAT's newsletters, too.

Who's better for biotech: Trump or Clinton?

Or does it even matter?

Both candidates agree that drugs are too expensive. And no matter who wins, the fervor over drug pricing isn't going away, a panel of biopharma executives said yesterday at a STAT panel.

The takeaway? The industry needs to prepare for change.

Read more.

Tailoring prescriptions to a patient's microbiome

Antibiotics screw up the microbiome by killing off, well, a bunch of microbes. 

Now, the CDC is attempting to learn more about our innate microorganisms as a means to study and combat antibiotic resistance. It’s awarding some $14 million to fund 34 projects that will study how antibiotics mess with the microbiome, how this kind of disruption damages health, and how to restore balance.

One big goal: To predict individual risk from taking certain antibiotics — and ultimately find ways to prescribe drugs that fit with a patient’s own microbial makeup. 

Most of the grants went to academicians, but a single one went to a company — Maryland’s Synthetic Biologics. The funding will go towards the company’s Phase 2b clinical trial that’s studying whether its drug, ribaxamase, will protect the gut microbiome from IV antibiotics.

Software is eating biotech VC

Biotech is no longer the belle of the VC ball. (Pitchbook/NVCA)

The software industry is claiming more and more of the venture capital dollars out there, and life sciences is losing some ground.

That’s according to the latest data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association, which just released their numbers from the first three quarters of 2016. Back in 2009, biotech accounted for more than a quarter of all VC bucks invested. So far in 2016, the industry is getting just 16.6 percent.

Across the board, the number of deals is steadily declining, PitchBook notes. All sectors are off pace compared with last year, and the annual flow of investments is set to drop 22 percent for 2016. Looking just at life sciences, there have been 800 announced deals so far this year. That's behind last year's pace of 1,200 deals for the full year.

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Goodbye, reference genome. Hello, genome graph

the genome: looks like the world's craziest subway map (university of california, santa cruz)

In the 16 years since the very first human genome was assembled, the field’s exploded: Many thousands, and soon millions, will have their genomes sequenced.

But the way we’re analyzing all that genetic data is woefully outdated. We rely on "reference genomes," which have been cobbled together from the DNA of volunteers, but which never quite fit right when we try to match one sequence to another.  

Enter the genome graph. It’s a single network of DNA sequences, and is meant to capture genomic information of thousands, or even millions of people — to be used as a powerful new reference point for analyzing genomic data, as STAT's Carl Zimmer explains.

Read more.

Is it time to start worrying about the Medicines Company?

Yesterday’s no good, very bad news from Alnylam could have a broadly bad effect on biotech at large, as Adam Feuerstein noted. But it also trains an acute spotlight on one of the company’s partners.

The Medicines Company is at work on an Alnylam-invented treatment for dangerously high cholesterol that also works by silencing overactive genes. Things seem to be going fine — and the Medicines Company just disclosed that its independent advisers see no safety problems in its ongoing trial — but Alnylam’s blowup still sent its partner’s shares down about 10 percent.

Clouding matters is that no one’s really sure why Alnylam’s drug, revusiran, ran into safety problems. It could be an issue with the whole class of therapies, called RNA interference drugs. That would be bad for the Medicines Company's long-term outlook.

But, as Leerink analyst Joseph Schwartz noted, patients in the Medicines Company’s trial are getting roughly 1/20th as much actual drug as those in Alnylam’s failed study. So if there is a problem with the technology, it may not affect the Medicines Company.

Now all eyes turn to Nov. 15, when the company is slated to present data from its ongoing trial at the annual American Heart Association meeting.

More reads

  • Alnylam is spending big on new pipeline projects, and some investors aren't quite on board. (Financial Times)
  • A look at NASH, the stealthy liver disease that has attracted major biopharma investment. (STAT)
  • Pfizer is planning to sell its Manhattan headquarters and find a more "modern" building in 2019. (Reuters)

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Enjoy the weekend. We'll be back Monday.

Damian & Meghana

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