Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, where we keep you on top of the latest in biotech. For more in-depth coverage of biopharma, subscribe to STAT Plus. On Twitter: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

Why aren't pharma CEOs being hauled into Congress?

(Photo illustration by STAT; Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Mark Zuckerberg is expected to become the latest corporate villain-du-jour to head to Capitol Hill to be subjected to the ritualized flogging that is testifying before Congress. Which raises the question: Amid persistent concern over drug prices, why aren't pharma executives being dragged in, too?

Not a single pharma CEO has testified on Capitol Hill since President Trump famously declared shortly before his inauguration that drug companies are "getting away with murder." STAT's Erin Mershon maps out three main reasons why: The drug industry trade group PhRMA works hard behind the scenes to keep its CEOs out of the spotlight. Republicans who control the congressional agenda tend to be allies to pharma. And then there's the nihilistic hesitation: What's the point of hauling CEOs in anyway?

After all, one patient advocate quipped, CEOs on the hot seat mostly reiterate talking points that amount to "warmed-over garbage that can be debunked by a middle schooler with Google."

Read more.

PhRMA's latest ad blitz defends copay coupons

PhRMA is out with a new ad blitz aimed at defending the controversial copay coupons that drug companies offer for some medicines.

The ad campaign calls out insurers and pharmacy benefit managers for sometimes blocking these coupons from being applied to deductibles and out-of-pocket caps. "Why are middlemen trying to keep you from reaching your deductible?" one ad asks. (PhRMA's campaign is running in print, radio, digital, and social channels in Washington, D.C., and some states, but PhRMA spokeswoman Holly Campbell wouldn't say how much money the trade group is spending on the ads or which states they're going to run in.)

Meanwhile, the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans didn't take kindly to PhRMA's latest push, putting out a release calling the new ads the "next phase of pharma's distraction campaign." The drug industry "uses coupons to thwart generic uptake, mask enormous price increases, and pass the increased costs on to consumers and taxpayers," AHIP's release said.

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23andMe is the butt of its own bad April Fools' Day joke


Consider Exhibit #5934 of why April Fools' Day on the internet is the worst holiday: 

The luxury car brand Lexus put out a curious tweet this week unveiling "Genetic Select"  a new partnership with 23andMe that seemed to involve larger in-car cupholders for drivers whose genes predispose them to have a higher tolerance for caffeine. 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki cheerily retweeted it.

If all this sounds ridiculous, that's because it was an early April Fools' Day joke, 23andMe confirmed to STAT. 

As GenomeWeb reporter Turna Ray points out, this isn't 23andMe's first stab at cracking an April Fools' Day joke: 2010 brought a report on a new genetic variant linked to gullibility, and 2011 brought the discovery of another human chromosome and a corporate name change to 24andMe.

But something felt a little too on the nose about this year's Lexus joke. There are already real companies using genetics to sell wines and match roommates and pair singles and 23andMe, which has big aspirations to develop drugs and sell FDA-approved tests, may not be doing itself any favors by associating itself with gimmicks that are frivolous and science-free. Which begs the question: Who are we supposed to be laughing at this April 1st?

Readouts looked good in Q1. So why did stocks fall?


We set out at the beginning of this waning quarter to track 11 big binary events in biotech. One of them, from Incyte, didn't materialize; that readout is expected in the first few weeks of the second quarter. Of the 10 readouts that did happen, all but one turned up positive to one degree or another. So naturally, the stocks of all but two of the 10 companies moved lower since those events happened. 

Wait, what?

STAT's Adam Feuerstein has a few explanations, including lousy investor sentiment and a lack of conviction for biotech stocks generally. 

Read more.

More reads

  • Remember the Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JP Morgan health care venture? Meet the man who orchestrated it. Bloomberg
  • Viagra turned 20 this week. Quartz

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