The Readout Damian Garde

Don't hold your breath for Biogen's Alzheimer's data

The year’s biggest news in Alzheimer’s disease won’t be featured at the year’s biggest Alzheimer’s disease conference.

Biogen, which was widely expected to present results from its failed aducanumab studies next month, said it needs more time to analyze the data. That’ll be a disappointment to the many researchers who hoped to get a deep dive into aducanumab at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, which starts July 14 in Los Angeles.

It also delays the next permutation of the never-ending debate over the amyloid hypothesis. We all know aducanumab failed to beat placebo at slowing cognitive decline, but the biological details could be instructive. If the drug failed to clear out those toxic plaques, one could argue that the problem was with aducanumab and not with the amyloid theory. But if Biogen’s drug did its job and still had no cognitive benefit, some scientists might be convinced to dump amyloid once and for all.

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A somber end for pharma’s heir apparent


(Allergan, Dom Smith/STAT)

AbbVie’s decision to buy Allergan for $63 billion marks the end of the line for an audacious experiment that never quite proved its promise.

Today’s Allergan is the magnum opus of Brent Saunders, a one-time industry heretic who briefly convinced the world that you could create a world-leading pharmaceutical firm by cobbling together assets instead of investing deeply in research.

As STAT’s Matthew Herper points out, it almost worked: Back in 2015, Pfizer agreed to buy Allergan for $160 billion in cash and stock. But that deal unraveled due to shifting tax laws, leaving Allergan and Saunders to go it alone. What ensued was a four-year marathon of PR missteps and clinical disappointments. Now Allergan is selling for 60% less.

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Government panel takes middle road on blockbuster vaccines

Fast. What's Pfizer's top-selling product? 

If you're wrapped up in the world of immune-modulating arthritis drugs and cancer immunotherapies, you may not realize the answer is an older immune system booster: the pneumonia vaccine Prevnar 13, which is given to both infants and older adults and generated $5.8 billion in annual sales last year.

And the use of the vaccine in older adults was making some investors nervous, because herd immunity from kids getting the vaccine is making disease caused by the strains of pneumococcus it prevents increasingly rare. Yesterday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices removed a hard recommendation that older adults should get the vaccine, STAT's Helen Branswell reports. At the same time, ACIP said Prevnar vaccination should be left as "shared decision-making" between doctors and patients, meaning it will probably still have insurance coverage. A similar ruling was made for Merck's human papilloma virus vaccine, Gardasil, which prevents growths that may turn into cancer.

That's what Umer Raffat, an analyst at Evercore ISI, had predicted would happen. Shared decision-making, he wrote in a note to investors, "avoids the bad scenario of a somewhat permanent reduction in utilization rates." That leaves the door open to new pneumococcus vaccines that are being developed by both Pfizer and Merck. For now, he wrote, usage already reflects this middle road, anyway, because patients and doctors apparently aren't feeling the need to use the vaccine.

There's a bipartisan push to force pharma to justify price hikes

An influential Senate committee got behind a law that would require drug companies to explain any price hikes that exceed 10% in a year or 25% in a three-year span, a bipartisan idea that could make its way to the president’s desk.

As STAT’s Lev Facher reports, the proposal would be an amendment to a broader health care bill already under deliberation, one that includes measures affecting how pharmacy benefits managers charge for drugs and how branded firms thwart generic competition.

If it passes, drug companies would be required to supply the federal government with justifications for price increases, detailed accounting of drug’s revenue, the company’s marketing expenditures, and money spent on R&D.

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More reads

  • Medical preprints go live, with more vetting than, say, math manuscripts. (STAT)
  • 14-year-old cancer survivor runs first 5K to bring her life-saving treatment to other kids. (Runner's World)
  • Drug companies are focusing on the poor after decades of ignoring them. (New York Times)
  • Encoded nabs $104M, Illumina's help, to push gene therapy's limits. (Xconomy)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,


Thursday, June 27, 2019


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