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The Readout Damian Garde

Heads up: There won't be a newsletter on Thursday, Nov. 22, or Friday, Nov. 23. We'll be back Monday, Nov. 26. 

Beware the Black Friday news dump

There’s no better (or more popular) time to announce bad news than late on a Friday, and there’s no Friday quieter than the one that follows Thanksgiving. With that in mind, here are a few outstanding biotech questions that will get answers before the year is out, and, if those answers are negative, could cross the wires in Friday’s gloaming hours.

Neurocrine Biosciences hopes a drug called Ingrezza, approved to treat the movement disorder tardive dyskinesia, can help patients with Tourette’s syndrome. Results from a mid-stage study are expected any day now.

Marinus Pharmaceuticals is angling to compete with Sage Therapeutics in treating postpartum depression. Key data on its treatment, ganaxolone, have been repeatedly delayed, but management said last month that the results would be available “shortly.” 

Global Blood Therapeutics believes its in-development treatment for sickle cell disease merits FDA approval despite mixed results in a late-stage study. It’s unknown whether the FDA is on board with that belief, and Global Blood has promised to relay the agency’s opinion before the year is out.

How super-specific sequencing can lead to new cancer treatments

Genome sequencing is a great way to figure out what’s going on in a given bodily tissue. But because tissues are made up of countless cells, the end result is a top-level average, blind to the subtle differences between individual cells.

But new technology promises to offer scientists a previously impossible glimpse at the inner workings of cells, STAT’s Meghana Keshavan reports. Called single-cell sequencing, it works like it sounds: Scientists can isolate cells and test them for certain genetic signatures, potentially lighting the way to super-targeted treatments for a host of disease.

“Imagine you were a biologist and didn’t have a microscope — and then I handed you one for the first time,” said Dr. Sam Behjati, a pediatric oncologist and single-cell researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Britain. “That’s how profound single-cell sequencing is.”

Read more.

We still don’t know who’s going to run Gilead

It has been four months since Gilead Sciences said its CEO, John Milligan, would step down at the end of the year, and it’s still unknown just who’s going to lead the $90 billion drug company as it embarks upon a new chapter.

Investors want someone who knows how to buy stuff, according to RBC analyst Brian Abrahams. The hepatitis C drugs that made Gilead a household name are gradually receding from revenue relevance thanks to rising competition, and that means future growth rests in part on spending cash to acquire new ideas.

According to Abrahams, that might make Jennifer Taubert, now head of pharma at Johnson & Johnson, an ideal candidate. Daniel O'Day, head of Roche’s pharma division, could also be a candidate, as could Paul Clancy, who made his name in CFO roles at Biogen and Alexion. Or, Abrahams notes, there's always former Celgene CEO Bob Hugin, who, you may have heard, has some free time these days.

Bernie Sanders wants to do Trump one better on drug prices

Last month, the Trump administration startled pharma with a proposal to peg what Medicare pays for certain drugs to the what other countries spend on the same medicines. And now Sen. Bernie Sanders, who spends little of his time agreeing with the president, is pushing to expand on that idea.

A new bill, unveiled yesterday, dovetails with Trump’s idea, using the prices paid in wealthy nations to benchmark what the U.S. should spend on drugs. But the Sanders bill goes well beyond what Medicare pays and instead demands that drug companies lower the prices they charge any U.S. payer to match what overseas governments pay. And companies that refuse would face instant generic competition, regardless of any patents they may hold.

It’s an idea with virtually no chance of getting anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Sanders echoing a Trump idea is a reminder to the drug industry that the rising cost of medicines is an increasingly bipartisan concern.

More reads

  • Only a few drug makers are actively targeting medicines needed in poor countries. (STAT Plus)
  • Palantir, Merck KGaA form Boston venture to mine health care data. (Boston Globe)
  • Is Amarin’s fish-oil-derived drug a historic breakthrough or not? It’s complicated. (Forbes)
  • Will we ever cure Alzheimer’s? (New York Times)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,


Wednesday, November 21, 2018


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