The Readout Damian Garde

Should you feel sorry for pharma?

Is the drug industry wrong about Alzheimer's disease? And can cryptocurrency fund actual science?

We discuss all that and more on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we discuss the latest setback in the quest to find a treatment for Alzheimer's and pick apart what it does and doesn't mean for biotech's best near-term hope. Then, we talk about one company's mission to pay for drug development by issuing its own cryptocurrency. And then STAT's Ed Silverman joins us to break down what has been a rocky start to the year for pharma, which is facing declining fortunes, frustrated investors, and a gathering storm in Washington.

You can listen to the episode here. To listen to future episodes, be sure to sign up on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

About that latest ‘cancer cure’

Perhaps you saw an article in the Jerusalem Post this week, one in which an Israeli company promised “a complete cure for cancer” in just a year. The claim, based on a study in mice, is more than a little eyebrow-raising, but that didn’t stop the story from being credulously promoted millions of times across the internet.

And that, STAT’s Matt Herper writes, is a problem. The odds of an early-stage cancer treatment making it from the clinic to the pharmacy is something like 30 to 1. And for the treatment in question, not yet in human trials, success is an even bigger longshot. Which makes the breathless promotion that much more dangerous.

“Jonathan Swift noted that a lie can traverse the world while the truth limps behind it 300 years ago,” Herper writes. “In the age of social media, the problem seems as though it has gotten worse.”

Read more.

Scandals aside, CRISPR is hard

The rapid rise of CRISPR as the world’s preferred genome-editing technology is intrinsically tied to how comparatively easy it makes the process of cutting and pasting DNA. And last year’s headline-grabbing CRISPR babies scandal illustrated just how easily that technology could be misused.

But as Casebia Therapeutics CEO Jim Burns writes in STAT, don’t let that distract from just how difficult it’s going to be to translate CRISPR’s sweeping promise into actual treatments that can be safely administered.

First you’ve got to get your copy-pasted genetic lettering to its target, which likely means relying on harmless viruses or tiny particles made up of fat. And if that works, you’ll have to figure out how to manufacture a genome-editing treatment in huge quantities, without sacrificing safety and reliability. 

Read more.

Sliding doors for Roche and Biogen

Yesterday, in light of Roche’s bad news in Alzheimer’s disease, we asked readers: Is Biogen’s similar (but not identical) drug now more, less, or just as likely to succeed?

And it was close. Just about 45 percent of respondents said Biogen’s treatment, aducanumab, had the exact same odds of success or failure after the Roche news. But 44 percent argued aducanumab is less likely to work now that Roche’s therapy, which also targets amyloid deposits in the brain, has proved indistinguishable from placebo in patients with mild disease.

The remaining 11 percent say Biogen’s treatment is now more likely to succeed, which, hey, stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, we can all look forward to having a similar debate until 2020, when aducanumab’s late-stage trials finally conclude.

More reads

  • In bold new proposal, Trump administration pitches an end to certain drug rebates. (STAT)
  • FDA warned of EpiPen problems at Pfizer's Meridian factories. (Business Insider
  • European Commission argues pharma deserves further antitrust scrutiny. (STAT Plus)
  • In sticking to the knitting has Array given up too much? (EP Vantage)

Thanks for reading! Until next week,


Friday, February 1, 2019


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