Thursday, September 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.


A second shot at biotech's wiliest target

Dr. David Hung has done this before: Waiting on Alzheimer’s disease data from a repossessed drug, one that has shown promise in phase 2, with more than $1 billion on the line.

But unlike last time, when the failure of Dimebon blindsided and nearly decimated Medivation, Hung’s new company has a plan in place. If Axovant Sciences’ intepirdine comes up short, there are other drugs in the pipeline and plenty of cash to buy new ones, Hung said. And if it hits, the young company has expansive plans to start “swinging for more fences,” he said.

By the end of this month, we’ll find out whether Hung is in for yet another painful pivot or a smashing start to the third act of what has been a remarkable biotech career.

Read more.

Ubl #GoesBoldly into STAT

Both PhRMA and pharma have gotten a fair bit of flack of late — from Trump tweets to homegrown criticism of that whole #GoBoldly campaign. So PhRMA chief Stephen Ubl swung by STAT yesterday to talk about how he plans to right the ship.

Part of the conversation involved a python swallowing a tennis ball.

Read more on STAT Plus.

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Merck's investment in clinical trial matchmaking

We’re still waiting on that magical nexus of digital health and pharma, as drug makers try to figure out how to apply all that Silicon Valley brawn to their business models. Some low-hanging fruit? Using tech to make clinical recruitment more efficient. That step of the game, after all, costs drug companies millions. 

In that spirit, Merck just led an $11 million round for, which matches patients searching for information about their given health condition with a clinical trial that may be able to help.  So far, the startup says it has matched patients with 14,000 trials. is far from the only player in this space, of course. Even IBM Watson has been working on a clinical trial matchmaking service — though given their track record, perhaps a gamble on a wee startup is the right choice. 

The next (next) generation of cancer cell therapy

Now that Novartis is turning CAR-T into an actual product, and a Kite-consuming Gilead Sciences is right on its heels, the question of whether cell therapies can treat cancer has given way to a more practical concern: Just how product-like can they really be?

Novartis expects it to take 22 days to harvest a patient’s T cells, rewire them to kill tumors, and then actually administer that as a treatment. And the whole endeavor is dependent on a labor-intensive procedure at a singular facility, a reality analysts say may limit CAR-T’s adoption in the early days.

But the entire field is working to automate the process as much as possible, scientists said at the CAR-TCR Summit in Boston this week, hoping to shorten timelines and eliminate the potential for human error.

“Someday we’ll get to the stage where we’ll take cells from a patient, and there’ll be a machine right there that hospitals can use to reprogram them,” said Robert Hofmeister, chief scientific officer at TCR2 Therapeutics, a company doing preclinical work on cell therapies for solid tumors. It’s a long way off, he added, but “that’s the ideal scenario.”

More reads

  • Sarepta’s new DMD drug helps patients produce a crucial protein — but may not quiet critics. (STAT Plus)
  • Deal hungry biopharma remains happy to pay up. (EP Vantage)
  • Martin Shkreli is selling his one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album on eBay. (Bloomberg)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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