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The Readout

Bluebird's fast flight in Europe

Surprise! Bluebird Bio’s beta-thalassemia gene therapy is already under review in Europe.

Earlier this morning, the Cambridge biotech said a marketing application for Lentiglobin to treat patients with the rare, inherited blood disease was accepted for review by European regulators.

Bluebird was sneaky — in a good way. Based on the company’s prior guidance, investors were expecting Bluebird to announce a European regulatory filing before the end of the year. Instead, Bluebird went ahead and submitted the Lentiglobin gene therapy without telling anyone. Friday's public announcement means the European review process for Lentiglobin is ahead of schedule.

Read more.

Private equity jumps into life sciences in a big way

Private equity megalith Blackstone Group just bought its way further into the life sciences: It just acquired Clarus, a health care investment firm that’s raised some $2.6 billion since its 2005 inception. Clarus, which is based both in Boston and San Francisco, has invested in dozens of companies in the biopharma, medical device, and diagnostic spaces. Financial terms of the acquisition weren't disclosed.

"Private capital can play an important role in accelerating the lengthy clinical development process to help bring vital, but underfunded, drugs to market," Blackstone President and COO Jon Gray said in a statement. 

Of course, Blackstone is hardly a health care rookie — it’s already invested more than $19 billion in the sector.

What’s up next? The formation of Blackstone Life Sciences, a private investment company focusing specifically on biopharma firms at all levels of drug development. 

On Arrowhead's overinflated ego ... and deal dollars

A tip of the Readout cap to Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals for conjuring a press release announcing a hepatitis B drug licensing deal that is topped with the most hyperbolic biobucks headline we’ve seen in a long time.

Arrowhead’s license and collaboration deal with Janssen, the pharma arm of Johnson & Johnson, is valued at $3.7 billion, Arrowhead crowed Thursday. That’s a lot of dough, except Arrowhead is really getting $250 million from J&J. That’s 7 percent of the deal total. The other 93 percent of the money won’t flow to Arrowhead for years, and then only if its experimental hepatitis B drug (still early in clinical trials) meets best-case scenarios.

Excessive self-promotion is built into Arrowhead’s DNA. Back in 2014, the company’s investor presentation included a slide projecting $1 trillion in potential sales “even under conservative pricing assumptions” for its first-generation hepatitis B drug. That T in trillion is not a typo. The drug later flopped.

After announcing Thursday’s deal with J&J, Arrowhead shares dropped 17 percent. Some folks remember 2014.

How's the human rainbow programmed?

Dunno. Our knowledge base remains mostly monochromatic. 

Seven scientists just penned pleas in Cell for increased funding — and awareness — around diversity in human genetics research. One alarming statistic: From 2009 to 2016, the percentage of genetic research participants with non-European ancestry included in NIH-supported research increased from 4 percent to 6 percent — despite legislation supporting greater inclusion of underrepresented populations. That’s pretty abysmal — and a sign that talk’s still cheap. 

One researcher, Nanibaa’ A. Garrison of the University of Washington, suggested that having culturally sensitive outreach might help, say, indigenous populations get more comfortable with the idea of genetic sequencing. Xun Xu of the Beijing Genomics Institute gets more technical: “Self-reporting datasets with block-chain technologies could be another interesting alternative to accelerate the generation of genetic data-sets for underrepresented populations,” he writes.

More reads

  • Readout LOUD: Nobel snubs, millennial founders, and a new kind of lightning round. (STAT)
  • FDA expands approval of Roche hemophilia drug. (Reuters)
  • Startup Spotlight: This Cambridge biotech just snagged a deal with Roche without ever making a pitch. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,


Friday, October 5, 2018


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