Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Readout by Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Welcome to The Readout, your daily source for all things biotech. Check out our other newsletters, including Pharmalot, here. Follow us on Twitter, too: @damiangarde@megkesh, and @statnews.

Home movies for the macromolecule set

Witness: a protein in motion. oh, wait. (Relay Therapeutics)

Proteins are far from static: Their skeletons are constantly contorting. And Third Rock’s new lushly funded startup, Relay Therapeutics, is out to understand that motion, with an assist from Chief Scientific Officer Mark Murcko, formerly of Vertex.

The big idea: Figuring out how to help a drug bind to a protein through all that shape-shifting will make it more effective.

With a $57 million Series A in hand, Relay is focusing first on cancer, though the company’s not disclosing indications quite yet. STAT spoke with Relay Therapeutics cofounder (and Third Rock partner) Alexis Borisy:

What are you doing over at Relay Therapeutics?

We’re basically creating movies of proteins. The techniques we’ve used to date to image proteins just give a snapshot — but we can see a full world of motion, which gives you a more fundamental, deep insight on how it functions. And that’s exactly what you want to design a drug.

We study the full length of a protein, where the whole thing goes from a ball shape to wide open, and oscillating to all these other shapes in between. We watch it interacting with many proteins, and record huge swings that can occur. When we look at a protein in this manner, we’re finding different ways to drug it.

And how are you making these movies? 

One of our cofounders is David Shaw, so we've got access to his "DESRES" lab. So we have 70 supercomputers dedicated to long molecular dynamic simulations, and can sample across all the biological possibilities of movement. We can capture milliseconds of protein movement — which, in the scale of biology, is huge. 

So is this an in silico play? 

We’re actually taking a very integrated approach. Our computation is very powerful, but it’s not sufficient to get the right data to build a drug — you have to have empirical protein measurements. Basically, protein movement is so complex that we can’t in silico model everything on its own.

Biotech: Beware the big, bad EpiPen

The EpiPen fracas has biotech officially spooked. 

A cadre of biopharma execs (including, notably, former Teva CEO Jeremy Levin, who now leads Ovid Therapeutics) wrote a guest post in Forbes meant to distance themselves from Mylan’s behavior. They expressed concern that the strong public reaction to EpiPen price hikes may cause a ripple effect that will end up deterring biotech innovators from, well, innovating. 

“Massively increasing the price of old generic drugs is not our business model,” they write. They go on to warn that “superficially easy fixes” from Congress and others “might ‘feel good’ in the short term but in fact would have far-reaching, negative consequences.” 

The authors call for pricing transparency and a system to ensure affordable medications — while not “curtailing the extraordinary advances” underway in the biotech world. 

Wonder if this call for transparency extends to their own designer drugs… 

A toe in the microbiomic waters

the gut is an infinitely fascinating place to mine for future drugs. (PACIFIC NORTHWEST NATIONAL LABORATORY)

The field of microbiomics is booming, in biotech and basic research alike. But it's early days yet in the effort to understand just what's going on in our guts.

The microbiome has at least 100 times more genes than human cells have, Harvard chemistry professor Emily Balskus explains, and scientists have for studied just 1 percent of all microbes.  So far. 

Read more.

Presidential candidates skip a chance to slam biopharma

In Scientific American’s widely circulated candidate questionnaire on science in America, the various people running for president punted an opportunity to call out the drug industry.

Asked how they might “enlist researchers, medical doctors, and pharmaceutical companies” to combat the growing epidemic of opioid abuse, not one name-checked drug makers. It was a brief reprieve for an industry that has been skewered throughout the race.

But biopharma didn’t escape entirely unscathed. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, responding to a question about scientific integrity, bemoaned that current FDA Commissioner Robert Califf had ties to pharma at his old job and flagged a 2015 report on the CDC's receipt of money from private industry.

Oh, and Donald Trump said “science is science and facts are facts.” So there’s that.

Oops. Let's try that one again.

In yesterday's Readout, we ran a poll that drew from Adam Feuerstein's suggestions of the top biotech stocks to watch through year's end. 

Technology failed us. The poll didn't work.

But we still would like to pick your brain: Which of these biotech companies will shoot up the most by year's end? Vote by clicking once on your choice.

Acadia Pharmaceuticals
Esperion Therapeutics
Kite Pharma
Gilead Sciences

More reads

  • Michael Sofia, the inventor (and namesake) of the hepatitis C treatment sofosbuvir, is among this year's Lasker Award winners. (STAT)
  • Takeda has earmarked $15 billion to increase its presence in the U.S. market. (Financial Times)
  • Executives at Mylan got pay packages that far outstripped their peers. (Wall Street Journal)
  • TV drug ads — they work all the time, 10 percent of the time. (STAT)

Have a news tip or comment you want to send us?

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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