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Thursday, August 17, 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.

Now to reform the tax code

Pharma’s brief honeymoon with President Trump ended absurdly yesterday, with a simultaneous breakup, a Johnson & Johnson walkback, and a round of public criticism that even the sunniest PR rep would have to say was less than ideal.

But pharma still does business in America, a nation of which Trump is still president. And tax reform, the thing the industry wants most from its leader, remains undone. Which is to say that despite days of rebukes, and mean tweets, the industry still needs to play nice with Trump in some form. 

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders, among the lone pharma voices to speak up against Trump’s immigration ban back in January, seems to have already moved on:



Meanwhile, “Trump's Charlottesville Uproar Overshadows GOP Tax Plan Roadshow,” it says here, suggesting that this process, like health care and infrastructure, will be interesting.

America's most wanted stock, according to Goldman Sachs

Biogen just landed on the Goldman Sachs Americas Conviction List, deeming it one of the most buy-worthy stocks on the market, as CNBC points out. The investment bank feels strongly about Biogen’s Alzheimer’s pipeline, and projects that its drug aducanumab could exceed $12 billion in sales.

Data published last year showed that aducanumab could indeed help pare down amyloid plaque — but the markets just weren’t all that interested. This Goldman Sachs pronouncement, however, has helped buoy Biogen’s market value by a cool $1 billion.

The drug’s still in Phase 3, so it remains a polarizing choice: Can aducanumab break from the ever-failing Alzheimer’s drug pack? Targeting amyloid does not have a good success rate. But, on the plus side, this drug's mechanism of action is different from the Eli Lilly drug that flopped in late stage trials last year. So will it work? Coin flip on that one.

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PhRMA is not happy with FDA. 

The pharmaceutical trade group is criticizing regulators for spending too much energy on dissecting prescription drug advertisement, as RAPS points out. FDA is not “articulating a clear, overarching research agenda or adequate rationales” on how researching advertising perception might impact public health.

The censure comes off a bit silly, of course, since it comes in the wake of PhRMA’s own “bold” marketing push to improve the image of the pharmaceutical industry. One might argue that the efficacy of that campaign in shifting public perception of biopharma is similarly dubious. 

The importance of M&A codenames

One cool thing about stock scandals is that we get to find out the codenames companies use when they’re thinking about buying one another. Actavis referred to Allergan as “Avocado,” for example, while Merck called its plot to buy Idenix “Project Invincible" and Pfizer referred to Furiex as "Fusilli."

Anyway, the absence of such codenames may have played a role in an expansive insider trading scandal. According to the SEC, an IT guy at a major bank found his way into his employer’s super-secret buyout folder and got a glimpse of all the deals clients were considering. That allowed him to hand out tips to his pals before a big transaction went through, the government claims, which led to huge and illegal returns on the acquisitions of Medivation, Auspex Pharmaceuticals, NPS Pharma, Covance, and other companies.

Which is to say that M&A codenames are not only entertaining but could potentially prevent crime.

Selections from Shkreli: The voir dire

Martin Shkreli was indeed found guilty for those Ponzi-esque crimes, but the road to get there was riddled with travail: The jury selection was not easy. Harper’s Magazine has compiled some of the more memorable sentiments from would-be jurors. Here are a few: 

Juror #1: I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him … he’s a greedy little man. 

Juror #10: The only thing I’d be impartial about is what prison this guy goes to.

Juror #52: When I walked in here today I looked at him, and in my head, that’s a snake — not knowing who he was. I just walked in and looked right at him and that’s a snake.

Juror #144: I heard through the news of how the defendant changed the price of a pill by up-selling it. I heard he bought an album from the Wu-Tang Clan for a million dollars. … I don’t think I can because he kind of looks like a dick.

More reads

  • Top UCSF scientist Shaun Coughlin is joining Novartis. (Endpoints)
  • FDA approval of Aerie Pharma glaucoma drug jeopardized by problems outside its control. (STAT Plus)
  • Genetic testing outfit Color Genomics raised about $52 million in a venture financing. (Axios)
  • Liquid biopsy spots early-stage cancers in study. (Reuters)

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Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Damian & Meghana

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