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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Your guide to the next three months in biotech

After a relative holiday lull in biotech news, 2021 is about to pick up speed when it comes to the kind of massive binary events that can swing billions of dollars.

STAT’s Adam Feuerstein has the scorecard for the first quarter, which will bring vital updates on Sarepta Therapeutics’ first gene therapy, Amgen’s pioneering cancer drug, and BioMarin’s once-delayed treatment for hemophilia A. Then there’s the looming news that needs no introduction: the fate of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s disease treatment aducanumab, and the coming Covid-19 vaccine data from Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and others.

One wildcard for 2021 is the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which begins next Monday. Most years, drug companies time announcements of varying importance to coincide with the conference and, in theory, become the talk of the industry at its largest annual meeting. This year, with JPM downsized and virtualized, that customary bolus of news may not materialize.

Read more.

A changing of the guard at Pfizer

For a dozen years, if you wanted to talk about the state of some of the most important clinical drugs at Pfizer, you wanted to talk to Mace Rothenberg, the company's chief medical officer.

Rothenberg, an oncologist, announced yesterday that he is leaving the drug giant. He arrived way back in December 2008, and played an important role in making the pharmaceutical firm a player in cancer — something it decidedly wasn't. During his tenure, Pfizer launched cancer medicines including Xalkori for non-small cell lung cancer, Inlyta for kidney cancer, and Ibrance for breast cancer. Xalkori, in particular, stood out because it targeted only patients with a rare mutation, a strategy that was the opposite of Pfizer's traditional image as a company aiming only for mass-market medicines.

Rothenberg told STAT his retirement has been in the works since June. "I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 12 years at Pfizer and felt that this would be a good time to pass the baton," he said. He is, he said, open to taking a board seat at a company that would benefit from his experience, but he has no job offer in hand. He was on the search committee for his replacement, Aida Habtezion, currently a researcher at Stanford. He said she would make a "fantastic CMO."

How to spend $260 million of venture money

With every check-cashing biotech press release comes a cheerful description of how the company in question is going to use its newfound cash to bend the arc of modern medicine toward health. But how closely are those promises kept?

STAT’s Kate Sheridan, in a regular series called Something Ventured, catches up with the recipients of some $260 million to see how things are panning out a year after the wire transfer hits. In the latest incarnation, you’ll find some Zoom-based hiring, a lot of patent filings, and an ever-present need to secure yet more funding.

“Now is the kind of the perfect time that we should be looking at raising money,” Disc Medicine CEO John Quisel said, “and we’re doing that.”

Read more.

Again the time has come to fight over the definition of ‘drug prices’

Every January, drug companies the world over increase the list prices of their patented medicines, usually somewhere between 1% and 9.99999%, which becomes evidence of a greedy industry’s insatiability. Then someone points out that the vast majority of patients do not pay list prices, and that net prices — the ones that account for rebates and discounts — have been on an average annual decline in recent years, which becomes evidence of a lazy media’s ineptitude. And then a third person observes that, thanks to a bramble of secret covenants, none of these drug pricing data can reliably reflect reality in the U.S. Arguments ensue.

Anyway, as STAT’s Ed Silverman reports, the median list price increased 4.8% for 645 brand-name medicines in the U.S. this month. Within those data, from market research firm 46Brooklyn, AbbVie raised the price of its medicines by an average of 5%, while Pfizer raised list prices by an average of 3.7%, and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) boosted prices by 3%.

These numerals come in the context of a growing spread between what drug companies charge on a wholesale basis and what insurers actually pay, as Piper Sander analyst Christopher Raymond noted. That means the increasing difference between those numbers — called the gross-to-net spread — is quite likely going into the pockets of the middlemen who decide which drugs end up on formularies.

Read more.

More reads

  • Haven, ambitious health venture backed by Amazon, to shut down. (STAT)
  • Health tech platform Color is a unicorn after new funding round values it at $1.5 billion. (Fortune)
  • Chinese cancer biotech Gracell Biotechnologies sets terms for $150 million IPO. (Renaissance Capital)
  • Lynn Seely hits the exit as Myovant graduates to commercial space. (Endpoints)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

STAT

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