The Readout Damian Garde

Can you convict on genealogy?

Is desire a matter of medicine? And what do you get the alleged bride who has it all?

We discuss all that and more on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we discuss a new drug meant to increase women’s sexual desire and the medical, cultural, and scientific questions tied to its pending FDA approval. Then, we dig into the first murder trial stemming from a new forensic technique that uses family trees to track down alleged criminals. STAT’s Matthew Herper joins us to explain a polarizing development in the growing field of longevity research, and then we embark upon a lightning round, touching on the reported wedding of Elizabeth Holmes and the commonality between cats and guacamole.

You can listen to the episode here. To listen to future episodes, be sure to sign up on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Merck sets stage for a CEO transition — someday

Merck held its first investor day in five years yesterday at swank digs on the Upper East Side. The focus? Proving the company has more to offer than its big cancer drug Keytruda — and that it can thrive whenever CEO Ken Frazier and research chief Roger Perlmutter decide it is time to end their tenures.

Frazier, who seemed to speak as little as possible, repeated that drug development is a team sport and at one point shared the stage with nine other executives.

“Our mission and our rich legacy of inventing to save and improve lives is the foundation of our company, it’s the foundation of everything that we do, and I think more importantly it’s the springboard for our future,” Frazier said. Perlmutter, for his part, told analysts to put down their pens, and gave them a history lesson on Merck’s research laboratories that went back to 1933, before leaving discussion of individual products to his team.

Who could succeed Frazier? The obvious contenders: CFO Robert Davis, Chief Commercial Officer Frank Clyburn, and Chief Marketing Officer Mike Nally. All of them got a chance to show off their stuff. When asked afterward who could replace him after the event, Perlmutter said: “Most of them are upstairs,” referring to the Merck researchers who had been on stage.

Patent thickets may go unpruned after all

If you’ve ever wondered how the world’s top-selling biologics manage to stay so profitable despite lapsing intellectual property, the answer is so-called patent thickets, the scores of filings that keep competition at bay years after key patents expire.

Now, as STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports, a congressional effort to curb that tactic looks like it’s been substantially watered down. A Senate bill that would have made weaving patent thickets more difficult has been effectively defanged after some heavy lobbying from the drug industry.

Sen. John Cornyn, the bill’s sponsor, has promised to rework the legislation before a Senate Judiciary Committee vote next week. The original version of the bill, which was particularly aggressive toward pharma, appears to be a thing of the past.

Read more.

Biotech's big IPO week didn't work for everyone

About $600 million changed hands this week as five formerly private biotech companies went public. But one would-be IPO, from Dermavant Sciences, got postponed just hours before the expected pricing yesterday.

Dermavant, which grew from the Roivant Sciences family of license-friendly drug companies, stepped away from $100 million listing that would have valued the company at about $323 million. A spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The delay could mean that Dermavant’s bankers didn’t manage to convince enough people to buy into that valuation, which would be bad for Roivant. It’s also possible Roivant was pursuing a dual track, in which you file for an IPO while actively trying to sell a company, and that some high-dollar buyout will soon be announced. Or it’s none of the above and we’ve all wasted our time thinking about this.

More reads

  • Pharma CEOs didn’t show up for a congressional scolding, so progressives shadowboxed instead. (STAT)
  • ‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli settles all cases with Retrophin weeks after suing drug company’s directors from prison. (CNBC)
  • Sanofi plans 466 job cuts as part of R&D reshuffle. (Reuters)
  • Ex-Novartis pill factory gets a new life making CBD products. (Bloomberg)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,


Friday, June 21, 2019


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