The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Who's got the best treatment for chronic cough?

A small Canadian drug maker called Bellus Health is in the midst of developing a potential blockbuster drug to treat chronic cough — and is wrapping up a Phase 2 trial that should demonstrate whether it has a shot at surpassing a rival drug from Merck. The medicine, dubbed BLU-5937, is nothing like common cough syrup,  STAT’s Adam Feuerstein writes. Rather, it targets a sensory receptor that triggers airway irritation and the cough reflex.

People with this condition cough about 40 times per hour. Bellus's mid-stage study is trying to reduce that frequency by at least 25-30%, adjusted for placebo. The competitor drug from Merck, called gefapixant, reduced coughs by 37% in a Phase 2 trial. The latter candidate, however, has an unpleasant side effect profile — so if Bellus has a better safety profile, it could elevate the sales potential for the small biotech. 

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Will Akili's therapeutic video game make any money?

Last week, the FDA deemed a video game an appropriate therapeutic to treat ADHD. Now, the game’s maker — Akili Interactive Labs — has to prove that this mode of treatment can actually make money, STAT’s Rebecca Robbins writes. Its performance could shape the field of digital therapeutics moving forward. 

Some analysts are optimistic: The folks at Jefferies, for instance, project peak U.S. sales of $300 million. However, the game — called EndeavorRx — still hasn’t been given a price tag. The company said it’s not planning a one-time fee, but rather recurring payments for the treatment. 

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Covid-19 could interfere with cancer treatments

The director of the National Cancer Institute is worried about Covid-19. There’s risk of infection, of course, but the immediate cause of NCI Director Ned Sharpless' concern is that people are now postponing routine screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies, to steer clear of the novel coronavirus. 

An NCI model of breast and colorectal cancers projects that there will be 10,000 more deaths in the U.S. over the next 10 years because of these testing delays, STAT’s Elizabeth Cooney writes. Screening needs to continue, even if a second wave of coronavirus infections hits in the fall, Sharpless said. 

“We can open hospitals and worry about a second wave. I think it’s possible to do both. We have to,” Sharpless said. “To do otherwise, we’re going to trade different public health emergencies. So I think we can’t delay cancer care forever.” 

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Regeneron CEO's son is vying for Congress

The son of Regeneron CEO Ned Schleifer is angling for a seat in the House of Representatives. Adam Schleifer, a 38-year-old former federal prosecutor in California, has spent more than $4 million so far as he vies for an open seat in a Democratic district just north of New York City.

The fight between Schleifer and other Congressional contenders is becoming particularly heated, given that few have the same access to capital as the son of a pharmaceutical billionaire. 

“If he wins, it shows that you can buy an election,” one prominent Democratic fundraiser told the New York Times

More reads

  • Finch touts positive results for its microbiome pill for C. diff infections. (STAT)
  • Forma, Repare snag nearly $500 million collectively in upsized IPOs. (FierceBiotech)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Monday, June 22, 2020


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