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Monday, August 7, 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.

The Rebel Alliance, science edition

The Trump administration has a guerilla pro-science faction working quietly under its radar: A number of Obama loyalists have formed an unofficial shadow office to keep the former president’s science agenda aloft.

Trump no longer employs much of the science staff that worked during the previous administration, and most of those openings still gape wide open.

But members of the resistance counsel Democratic lawmakers on scientific policy, among other things. The group, which is made up of dozens of former science staffers, still holds regular meetings — though no longer, of course, in the White House.

Read more.

The week in biotech: ouch

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As trends go, that's not really the direction one would prefer.

Despite another earnings week packed with beats and raises, the Nasdaq biotech index fell about 2 percent on slumping investor sentiment. What gives?

Across the board, every biotech cloud seemed to come with the opposite of a silver lining. Regeneron posted strong Eylea sales, but investors were disappointed by the performance of Dupixent, its alleged blockbuster in the making. A similar story played out for Gilead Sciences and Alexion, as each posted better-than-expected sales but struggled to dispel worries about the future.

The whole thing underlines the biggest concern facing biotech's biggest names: The past was great, and the future's OK, but how will you sustain the future?

Sponsor content by Tetrascience

Eight innovation obstacles hurting emerging biotechs

Modern biotechs endeavor to scale innovative science and a vibrant culture. However, practical laboratory bottlenecks limit their ambition. With every additional scientist, instrument, and bench, teams have to manage a larger enterprise that is more complex. What may have worked as a small team, rarely works just one month later. Luckily there are best practices and new technologies built specifically for improving lab productivity. Learn more here.

A most avant garde cell scientist

From pig-human chimeras to Benjamin Button-esque mice, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte pushes the technological — and possibly ethical — boundaries of science. 

The Salk Institute researcher has long coaxed embryos to reveal their genetic workings, learning why a mass of cells might differentiate into a wing or an arm or a claw. He’s currently using that regenerative medicine knowledge to find a way to grow human organs inside swine. Izpisua Belmonte has drawn awe and skepticism from various corners, but the fact remains: He keeps proving other scientists wrong.

“We’re in a critical moment in human evolution. Everything that has happened in the past billion years follows two rules: random mutation and natural selection,” Izpisua Belmonte told STAT’s Usha Lee McFarling. “We’re now at a moment in history where we don’t have to follow Darwin’s rules. We need to be conscious of that.”

Read more.

Insel's second bet on digital biomarkers

After jumping ship from Verily, Dr. Tom Insel, who led the National Institutes for Mental Health for more than a decade — has settled in at a Bay Area startup called Mindstrong Health. 

The company studies an individual’s smart phone usage patterns, and aims to draw insight into his or or cognition, behavior, and mental health status. 

Insel praised Verily’s ambition, but lamented that its pace didn’t match his own. 

“I’m 65. I don’t have 10 years to develop a product,” he told STAT’s Charles Piller. “In a big company, there’s just a lot more hoops to go through. And I don’t have the time for all of those hoops.”

Read more.

Area man convicted of crime

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That's Martin Shkreli, in case you were confused by the absence of a hoodie. (KEVIN HAGEN/GETTY IMAGES)

It's over, kind of. Martin Shkreli was found guilty of three counts of fraud on Friday, ending a colorful trial that featured potato chips, furtive winks, and an exhaustive discussion of "assets under management."

But is it really over? Here's a look at whether the pharma industry at large can move on from the reputation-damaging Shkreli saga. And does this really matter? Here are some words on what the whole ordeal changed forever — and what it unequivocally did not.

More reads

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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