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The Readout Damian Garde

How three tech giants are dabbling in drug discovery

The same technology that can target advertisements, predict consumer behavior, or recognize faces in a photo might one day discover new drugs. And Google, Amazon, and Facebook are investing money to get it there.

As STAT’s Casey Ross reports, all three companies are wading into the world of protein folding, the process by which DNA instructions turn into bodily function. Many diseases trace their roots to errors in protein translation, and there’s mounting research suggesting that artificial intelligence might help understand why — and illuminate drug targets that could restore health.

Just what the tech giants hope to get from their investments is unclear, but scientists in the space say all three companies are hiring up experts.

Read more.

You don’t see C-suite clear-outs very often

Yet that’s exactly what happened yesterday at Akcea Therapeutics, whose CEO, president, and chief operating officer left the company.

The details, as STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, are that all three signed separation agreements that terminated their employments and entitled them to severance pay. Akcea gave no reason for the move, but it’s worth noting that none of the departing executives is quoted in the accompanying press release.

Stifel analyst Paul Matteis, likely speaking for many on Wall Street, had a concise reaction: “Why now?” The nearly $2 billion company is in the midst of a commercial competition with rival Alnylam Pharmaceuticals while developing next-generation rare disease treatments on a tight timeline. Changing leadership now could cause a costly disruption.

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The latest diabetes drug could teach us a lot about pharma in 2019

Last week, Novo Nordisk won approval for Rybselsus, an oral version of a particularly effective injectable treatment for diabetes. And this week, the company said it would charge about the same amount for both, which is about $26 per day.

But the real interest wasn’t the list price — the one Novo markets — but the net price — the amount the company takes home after discounts and rebates. And we won’t know that until we have a few quarters of revenue to compare against prescription data.

What makes Rybselsus an interesting test case is that it appears to be a more convenient but just as potent take on an already effective drug, which is to say it’s the kind of meaningful invention people want drug companies to make. But if cracking the crowded diabetes market requires Novo to offer steep rebates that line the pockets of middlemen, Rybselsus could become a case study for pharma’s oft-stated argument that the system is rigged in favor of PBMs.

Here’s a press release you don’t want to have to send

Yesterday, with its share price down as much as 18%, Catalyst Pharmaceuticals hit send on a press release saying it “is not aware of any information about the company's activities that has not been reported” that would explain the crashing stock. Later, Catalyst reassured investors that it had “sufficient resources for its current activities for at least the next 12 months.”

Specifically, it had about $23 million in cash as of June 30. In the second quarter, Catalyst made an $11 million profit, suggesting, as management said, that it’s in perfectly solid financial health.

However, as STAT’s Ed Silverman points out, Catalyst is not like most drug makers. The company’s sole approved product, a rare disease drug that costs $375,000 a year, is suddenly facing off-label competition from a much cheaper alternative, a development that could make profitable quarters a thing of the past for Catalyst. And while that $23 million may in fact last “for at least the next 12 months,” investors could be worried that the company’s longer-term plans might involve red numbers.

More reads

  • The Democrats shepherding Pelosi’s drug pricing bill have taken plenty of campaign cash from pharma. (STAT)
  • Notorious KRAS: Taking down cancer researchers’ biggest foe. (Chemical & Engineering News)
  • FierceBiotech's 2019 Fierce 15. (FierceBiotech)
  • Patients will be the losers as Pelosi’s plan to control drug prices nearly strikes out. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


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