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Updated: 1 hour 57 min ago

Former Rep. Chris Collins sentenced to 26 months in prison in biotech insider trading scheme

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 14:50

Chris Collins, a former Republican lawmaker and longtime ally of President Trump, was sentenced Friday to 26 months in prison, according to local reporters, months after pleading guilty to insider trading for illegal dealings surrounding an Australian biotech company.

Collins, who leaked confidential information about a failed drug trial to his son and other associates, resigned his seat in Congress in October after entering a guilty plea. His sentencing caps a three-year saga that also implicated his family, at least four fellow congressmen, and Trump’s onetime health secretary. All have been dogged by allegations that they acted unethically, and in some cases illegally, when they purchased or sold shares of Innate Immunotherapeutics.

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Tweaking how CAR-T therapy kills tumors could stop a dangerous side effect, study finds

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 11:00

As every trauma surgeon knows, there are messy bullet wounds and there are neat ones, and the former cause incomparably more trouble. If a team of scientists in China is right, the same principle may explain why the genetically engineered CAR-T cells that have been so successful against some leukemias and lymphomas often cause a violent and even life-threatening immune reaction.

The problem, the researchers reported on Friday, is that CAR-Ts attack and kill cancer cells in the messiest way biologists have ever seen.

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U.S. to begin health screenings at three airports for cases of novel Chinese virus

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:54

U.S. authorities on Friday are set to begin screening travelers arriving in the country from Wuhan, China, amid an ongoing outbreak of a novel viral infection there that has already led to cases among travelers in two other countries.

Passengers arriving from Wuhan in San Francisco and Los Angeles and at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport will be checked for symptoms of the infection, which include cough, sore throat, and fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is deploying 100 extra staff members to the three airports to help with the screening of the virus, which experts have determined to be part of a group called coronaviruses and are calling 2019-nCoV.

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STAT Plus: Up and down the ladder: The latest comings and goings

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:15

Hired someone new and exciting? Promoted a rising star? Finally solved that hard-to-fill spot? Share the news with us, and we’ll share it with others. That’s right. Send us your changes, and we’ll find a home for them. Don’t be shy. Everyone wants to know who is coming and going.

And here is our regular feature in which we highlight a different person each week. This time around, we note that Bluebird Bio (BLUE) hired Nicola Heffron as senior vice president, Europe. Previously, she worked at Celgene, where she was head of global marketing for the myeloid portfolio.

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STAT Plus: How swallowing a star might keep you from missing a dose of medicine

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 06:49

SAN FRANCISCO — Plenty of drug industry executives who take over this city for a week every January show slide decks about their businesses to woo potential investors.

Patricia Hurter makes her pitch by pulling a white capsule apart and withdrawing a plastic star-shaped structure.

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STAT Plus: Pharmalittle: FTC member favors Medicare negotiation on drug prices; BioMarin weighs pricing world’s most expensive drug

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 06:12

Good morning. Elizabeth Cooney here again, channeling Ed Silverman as another week draws to a close, that treasured signal to daydream about weekend plans. This weekend is a long one, as we here in the U.S. will observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. Ed will be back on the Pharmalot campus and Pharmalittle will be back in his hands on Tuesday. Some news to tide you over until then:

A Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday expressed support for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate the price of prescription medicines, a noteworthy break from GOP orthodoxy from a Trump administration appointee, STAT reports. The remarks from Christine Wilson, a business executive who President Trump appointed to the FTC in 2018, come as Washington remains split on how to tackle high drug prices and whether to allow Medicare to negotiate directly.

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The truth about JPM: Less is more

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 05:44

SAN FRANCISCO — Yet another J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is done. Was it worth it?

All in all, this was a really pleasant week in San Francisco. The weather this year was an A-minus. There was a noticeable drop in attendance. Meeting rooms weren’t jam-packed. Ubers and Lyfts were easy to hail and coffee shops were bustling but not overloaded.

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STAT Plus: ‘We have a tragedy of the commons’: How a VC thinks his new company can lower drug prices

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 01:45

A venture capitalist made some waves early in the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference when he announced his new company’s mission is to make medicines less expensive. After all, two of his previous investments have fueled drug makers using genetics to treat cancer — the kind of approach that has produced remarkable outcomes but also driven up the price of drugs.

Alexis Borisy, known for co-founding Foundation Medicine and Blueprint Medicines and wearing felt fedoras, seeks to bring down prices at his new company, called EQRx. The plan is to make “equivalars,” blockbuster look-alikes that have their own intellectual property but cost far less. Borisy talked about EQRx and its chances with STAT earlier this week at JPM. 

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Opinion: Microglia: a new target in the brain for depression, Alzheimer’s, and more?

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 01:40

More than a decade ago, I was diagnosed with a string of autoimmune diseases, one after another, including a bone marrow disorder, thyroiditis, and then Guillain-Barré syndrome, which left me paralyzed while raising two young children.

I recovered from Guillain-Barré only to relapse, becoming paralyzed again. My immune system was repeatedly and mistakenly attacking my body, causing the nerves in my arms, legs, and those I needed to swallow to stop communicating with my brain, leaving me confined to — and raising my children from — bed.

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Opinion: Goop’s pseudoscience ministry comes to Netflix

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 01:35

Gwyneth Paltrow’s reaction to the description of the vulva in episode three of her Netflix show, ironically titled “the goop lab,” appears like she didn’t know that the vagina is inside the body and the vulva is outside, or that she didn’t know much about pelvic floor muscles.

While this knowledge gap is common among women, I expected more from Paltrow, whose lifestyle business is partially built on monetizing the vagina. Her comment makes me wonder what body part she is really referencing with her “This smells like my vagina” candle.

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Listen: A J.P. Morgan recap, a plan to bust pharma monopolies, and a website for cancer patients

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 13:52

Why weren’t there any big deals announced this week? What does the word “equivalar” mean? And why is information about prognosis so hard to find?

We discuss all that and more on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we recap what happened — and what didn’t — this week at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Then, we talk about one of the biggest stories of the conference — the launch of a new company called EQRx aiming to develop cheaper medicines — with the health care veteran behind it, Alexis Borisy. Finally, we chat with Stephen Buck, the entrepreneur behind a new website called, which is designed to give cancer patients information about their odds of survival.

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STAT Plus: Airing frustrations with pharma, a Republican FTC commissioner just endorsed Medicare negotiation

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:11

WASHINGTON — A Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday expressed support for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate the price of prescription medicines, a noteworthy break from GOP orthodoxy from a Trump administration appointee.

The remarks from Christine Wilson, a business executive who President Trump appointed to the FTC in 2018, come as Washington remains split on how to tackle high drug prices and whether to allow Medicare to negotiate directly.

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STAT Plus: Lilly exec says ‘there are no villains’ in the high-priced insulin market

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:10

Several months ago, Eli Lilly (LLY) launched LisPro, an authorized generic version of its Humalog insulin at half price, or $137.35 a vial. The move was designed to defuse anger over the rising cost of insulin because LisPro would be more affordable to the uninsured or those with high-deductible insurance plans, whose copays are, typically, tied to list prices. But last month, a pair of U.S. senators issued a report saying the vast majority of pharmacies failed to offer LisPro and the effort was a bust. Lilly chief executive David Ricks called the findings “nonsense,” and argued the real access problem has been with middlemen — the pharmacy benefit managers — that prefer products with higher list prices because these offer higher rebates. We spoke with Mike Mason, who heads the Lilly diabetes business, at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference about the limitations of this program. (The conversation was edited for length).

Pharmalot: What was the expectation when you launched the authorized generic?

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STAT Plus: A venture firm warms to funding neuroscience

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:03

Longtime venture capital star Beth Seidenberg and former Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper say they have funded 10 companies from their new fund, Westlake Village BioPartners. But only three — the cell therapy companies Kyverna, Tmunity, and Arsenal Biosciences — are publicly known.

Any hints?

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15% of U.S. adults are physically inactive, new CDC data show

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:22

More than 1 in 7 adults across all U.S. states and territories are physically inactive, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

The findings were compiled from 2015-2018 data collected as part of the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is a telephone-based survey of people’s health activities, chronic conditions, and use of preventive health services.

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Opinion: The public science behind the ‘Merck’ Ebola vaccine

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:01

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an important vaccine against Ebola, five years after an epidemic in West Africa killed 11,310 people and after more than 2,200 have died of it in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last 18 months.

Alex Azar, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, quickly congratulated his department’s funding and “American global health leadership” for the vaccine, which is called Ervebo. As recently detailed in STAT, the reality is quite different: Canadian public institutions and funding outside the United States were primarily responsible for the vaccine. Without the work of one Canadian government laboratory in particular, more lives would surely have been lost.

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Three African nations roll out first malaria vaccine in closely watched trial

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 08:11

TOMALI, Malawi — A pinch in the leg, a squeal, and a trickle of tears. One baby after another in Malawi is getting the first and only vaccine against malaria, one of history’s deadliest and most stubborn of diseases.

The southern African nation is rolling out the shots in an unusual pilot program along with Kenya and Ghana. Unlike established vaccines that offer near-complete protection, this new one is only about 40% effective. But experts say it’s worth a try as progress against malaria stalls: Resistance to treatment is growing and the global drop in cases has leveled off.

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STAT Plus: Pharmalittle: Tension in the Verily-Dexcom tango; not so fast on the Pfizer-GSK spinoff

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 06:41

Good morning. Elizabeth Cooney here, about to relinquish the guest-host chair when Ed Silverman wraps up his tour of JPM in San Francisco. Lots of news there, lots of news everywhere. Here we go:

Verily, one of the most-talked-about debutants at this year’s J.P. Morgan ball, stumbled into apparent tension in its partnership with Dexcom (DXCM), STAT scoops. San Diego-based Dexcom launched in 2015 with the goal of creating a low-cost, disposable continuous glucose monitor for people with type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease that is tied to obesity and low activity levels. Verily, the Alphabet (GOOG) life sciences spinout, has embarked on a partnership with the diabetes device company to make a first-of-its-kind glucose monitor. But Verily CEO Andy Conrad said and showed more in a standing-room-only presentation than Dexcom CEO Kevin Sayer would have liked.

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Health authorities confirm novel virus case tied to Chinese outbreak in Japan

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 05:06

Japanese health officials have confirmed a pneumonia case caused by a previously unknown virus that started an outbreak in China, becoming the third country to identify the virus and raising additional questions about how it is spread.

The patient in Japan, a man in his 30s, had traveled there from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak originated, Japanese health authorities said in a statement. But he told health officials that he had not been to the large seafood market linked to most of the cases. That means there could be another source of the virus — which has been determined to be a coronavirus, a group that can sometimes jump from animals to people — or the man contracted the virus from another person.

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STAT Plus: Verily tangos at JPM with a health tech partner — and steps on a few toes

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 01:45

SAN FRANCISCO — Verily was one of the most-talked-about debutants at this year’s J.P. Morgan ball. For the first time in its five-year history, the Alphabet life sciences spinout presented to some of the 9,000 health care executives and investors who descended upon Union Square, and Verily’s mercurial CEO, Andy Conrad, faced pressure both to impress and entertain.

The conference room was standing room only on Monday as an enthusiastic Conrad, clad in the Silicon Valley uniform of pullover sweater and open-collar shirt, described some of the company’s numerous projects, teasing details that he said he’d never before shared with the public.

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