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Friday, July 21, 2017

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.

Pharma packaging: Almost fun as driving that truck

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Caption this, please. (AP)

Six months back, President Trump proclaimed the pharmaceutical industry was "getting away with murder." These days, he's branding their execs "business geniuses." 

Joined by the CEOs of Merck, Pfizer, and glass-maker Corning, the president launched a new "pharmaceutical glass packaging initiative" this week to celebrate U.S.-made products. As we see above, the ceremony required a feat of strength: Trump tried and failed to break a Corning-made medicine vial.

“Really, come on,” Wendell Weeks, Corning’s CEO, told Trump. “It’s not a test of manhood.”

Meanwhile, flexing his business genius, Pfizer CEO Ian Read used the event as a springboard to opine in Forbes on the need to lower corporate taxes.

Read more on STAT Plus.

What else can CAR-T do?

It looks pretty likely that the FDA is going to approve Novartis' CAR-T therapy for leukemia, and the odds look good for Kite's lymphoma treatment after that.

But what's on the horizon for hot-wired, tumor-seeking cell therapies?

Join us for a look at CAR-T 2.0: the quest to treat solid tumors, a different spin on re-engineering T cells, and the possibility of an off-the-shelf treatment that might one day provide CAR-T-like efficacy in a fraction of the time.

Read more on STAT Plus.

A sleep-based diagnostic for mental illness

An Australian digital health company has shot from obscurity into the mental health spotlight, thanks to the addition of two rather prominent board members: Amphibious Olympian Michael Phelps, and mental health crusader and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy. 

The company, called Medibio, is developing an objective test for psychiatric disease, drawing biometric data from wearable devices to track sleep and circadian rhythms. It's whipped up a bevy of algorithms to parse that data into mental health diagnoses.

But researchers who have watched the hunt for biomarkers falter year after year have a question: Will that really work?

Read more.

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The last word (we promise) on the short-selling spat

It was a relatively slow news week in biotech (Vertex excepted), and thus came a weirdly roiling debate over whether anonymous short sellers are bad for the world.

But the more interesting question is this: Should people betting against a stock have to make the same public disclosures as those wagering on success?

We asked readers, and about 67 percent said yes. That's pretty similar to the results of a poll biotech investor Brad Loncar conducted.

And thus we can reasonably conclude the industry's sentiment: "Shorts are bad" is reductive, but transparency is good.

New hope for glioblastoma

Glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with, has long been regarded as nearly impossible to treat. Recent advances, however, have persuaded some scientists that effective therapies are on the horizon.

As STAT's Sharon Begley reports, there are 87 experimental therapies, from vaccines and gene therapy to monoclonal antibodies, in clinical trials for glioblastoma. And the FDA recently approved a new imaging agent that turns glioblastoma pink, making it stand out against healthy brain tissue. 

Then there's the brain-zapping cap, called Optune, that enmeshes the brain in a low-level electrical field. As Adam Feuerstein reports, it was approved by FDA in 2015 after a large clinical trial showing it prolonged life. But it requires users to wear the mesh cap, which is tethered to a battery pack and generator, for some 18 hours a day. That's made some patients reluctant to use it.

Read more about the Optune device and the experimental glioblastoma therapies.

More reads

  • FDA’s flashing green light boosts novel drug approvals. (EP Vantage)
  • Sanofi offers Ablynx billions of biobucks for nanobody partnership. (FierceBiotech)

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Thanks for reading! Until Monday,

Damian & Meghana

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