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The Readout Damian Garde

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‘Not as dramatic as hell freezing over, but it’s close’

That’s how Piper Jaffray analyst Christopher Raymond described Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ decision to spend $1 billion buying its own stock yesterday. Stock buybacks, like patent thickets and price increases, are pretty de rigueur in the drug industry, but not for Regeneron, which has spent the last three decades taking a self-fashioned pharmaceutical high road.

That hasn’t always endeared the company to the world of Wall Street, which is perhaps why Regeneron’s share price rose about 7% yesterday. Baird analyst Brian Skorney called the $1 billion endeavor a sign of “financial maturation,” adding that Regeneron’s “willingness to use excess cash to buy back shares, as opposed to wanton R&D spend, signals some willingness to demonstrate some financial restraint.”

Not that Regeneron is being forced to walk back its commitment to spending money on research, wanton or otherwise. Analysts didn’t exactly cheer when the company decided to develop what would become the sixth checkpoint inhibitor for cancer, but early data released yesterday suggest Regeneron’s treatment could wind up being more than competitive with Merck’s market-leading Keytruda when it comes to treating lung cancer.

A CRISPR pioneer opens his lab notebook

Biochemist David Liu is the man behind a pair of innovations in CRISPR genome editing, one that promises enhanced precision and another that could solve some lingering safety concerns. 

As with any newfangled technology, Liu’s work raises quite a few questions. So we invited readers to submit queries of their own and got the Broad Institute scientist to answer them at length.

Among the questions: How do these things work? What are their limitations? What’s going on on the business side? And are we sure this is a good idea, future-of-the-human-race-wise?

You can read all of Liu’s answers here.

Myriad’s dominance may be coming to an end

For about two decades, Myriad Genetics has been synonymous with genetic tests for breast cancer risk, minting more than $2 billion on screens for BRCA mutations. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling imperiled Myriad’s market dominance, and we’ve spent the ensuing years waiting for a growing stable of competitors to unseat the powerful company.

Yesterday, we got a strong sign that’s happening. Myriad’s stock price fell about 40% after the company significantly slashed its revenue projections and reported quarterly sales that came well below analyst consensus.

And things look unlikely to improve for Myriad. The company blamed its quarterly dip on small payers declining to reimburse for its genetic tests, but a bigger problem could be afoot when Myriad’s contracts with larger companies come up for renewal. There’s a lot more competition now than there was six years ago, which means Myriad will have to bring down its prices if it hopes to defend its customer base.

The world is deeply dependent on China for drugs

About 80% of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients — the stuff that turns sundry powders into medicines — come from China. And while that creates an obvious logistical risk, it also brings some serious concerns about national security, according to Rosemary Gibson, a health care and patient safety expert at the Hastings Center.

In an interview with STAT’s Ed Silverman, Gibson explains how this imbalance came to be, what it means for the pharmaceutical supply chain, and why it’s keeping some drug industry CEOs up at night.

There’s no easy way to wean the nation’s dependence on a single supplier, Gibson said, but there’s a philosophical path forward: “We need to think about a cohort of medicines as a strategic asset,” she said. “We wouldn’t let another country control supplies of wheat or oil.”

Read more.

More reads

  • More, unfortunately, on the Chinese Alzheimer’s drug approval. (In the Pipeline)
  • Harvard study advances gene therapy in fighting age-related diseases. (The Boston Globe)
  • JPMorgan hires bankers for new venture capital coverage team. (Reuters)
  • Arguing for a national pharmaceutical research and development institute. (TheNextSystem.org)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

STAT

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