Thursday, June 7, 2018

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.

Can Hong Kong lure biotech without inflating a bubble?

Hong Kong is opening its doors to biotech, sending a delegation to BIO in Boston to extol the virtues of the local stock exchange, among other regional charms. But the thing about biotech companies is they quite often blow up. So how can the powers that be in Hong Kong attract biotech expatriates without inadvertently creating a market for lemons?

STAT's Rebecca Robbins sat through the delegation's pitch in Harvard Yard, parsing the promise of the Hong Kong market and spotting a few wayward biotech executives who might someday be persuaded to enter the public market across the Pacific.

Read more.

Spend $30 million, double your stock price

That’s what Axovant Sciences did yesterday. Its pivot to gene therapy took the company’s shares from $1.75 apiece to above $4.50 as investors bet that Axovant’s new strategy could potentially right the wrongs of its old one.

“We think today's announcement marks an important turning point in the company's trajectory,” wrote Jefferies analyst Mike Yee.

And the market apparently agrees: More than 100 million shares of Axovant traded hands yesterday, more than on any day in the company's history — including the day its last drug failed.

Axovant would hardly be the first biotech to spin investor gold out of penny-stock straw. A decade ago, clinical disappointment sent Neurocrine Biosciences’ shares down more than 80 percent; now a share of the company will run you about $100. And there’s a similar story behind Arena, Atara, and Medivation, biotech companies that salvaged dismal situations and rewarded true believers in the process.

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Half a year has gone by. Let's talk about it

It's almost July, which means the quarter is almost over, which means the first half of the year is almost over, which means it's time to look back and see how wrong everyone was.

Join STAT's Adam Feuerstein and me, Damian Garde, on Tuesday afternoon for a sort of mid-year biotech status check. Which companies are living up to the hype? Which ones are exceeding it? And which ones have simply made a mess of 2018?

We'll discuss all of that and lay out some expectations for the rest of the year, all on a conference call with STAT Plus subscribers. Not yet subscribed? We've got a special offer for you.

'When I think about death, I tend to think about how it’s going to happen'


Those are the words of Michael Becker, a longtime biotech executive and now a patient with cancer, talking openly and courageously about his decision to stop treatment. Becker invited Forbes reporter Matt Herper into his home and doctor’s office for his last chemotherapy session. In the moving, seven-minute video, Becker speaks about how he is coming to terms with his likely death and the impact the end of treatment is having on his family.

Becker hopes the new video, along with his ongoing blog and book, "A Walk With Purpose," will amplify his personal crusade: to encourage more parents to vaccinate their boys against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, that caused his cancer. Thirty thousand cancers are caused by HPV each year, but only 60 percent of boys receive all the doses of the Gardisil vaccine that could prevent them from getting HPV-related cancer.

“I’m really grateful that Mike gave us all this time and opened himself up so much,” Herper tells STAT. “There’s so much I hope people take away from the video, but one thing is this: HPV really is scary.”

More reads

  • Swiss attorney general will not pursue bribery charges against Novartis for payments to Trump lawyer. (STAT)
  • Price check on drug ads: Would revealing costs help patients control spending? (Kaiser Health News)
  • How robots are making better drugs, faster. (Wall Street Journal)
  • This biotech unicorn hopes to revolutionize drug making, but it has its skeptics. (WBUR)

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