If you blinked, you probably missed something this week in biotech. The nation’s biggest annual cancer meeting took place in Chicago, while biotech’s trade group held its annual confab in San Francisco. In Boston, there were more twists for a closely watched Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug and a setback for a high-profile drug for multiple sclerosis. Plans for new incubators were announced in two different cities. We’ve got those stories, plus a spate of financings and deals, a legal feud, and other news below.
—At the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago, diagnostics maker Guardant Health of Redwood City, CA, discussed data culled from 15,000 cancer patients whose tumors have been analyzed by Guardant’s so-called liquid biopsy test. The results give the company confidence it can expand its tests to screen for early cancer in high-risk people who are otherwise healthy. Guardant is funding a series of trials around the country in people whose genetic or lifestyle profiles put them at high risk of five types of cancer.
—Meanwhile, check out reports here, here, and here for some of the other headlines coming out of ASCO, including progress made in cancer immunotherapy, the ups and downs from various presenting companies, and a visit from Vice President Joe Biden.
—At the annual BIO conference, which gathered in San Francisco for the first time since cops battled street protesters in 2004, industry bigwigs took to the stage to defend themselves. Not against street riots this time, but against political, financial, and social pressures that are changing the way America pays for drugs.
BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood (pictured), a former Congressman-turned-lobbyist, told an audience, “We are fighting back,” and unveiled plans to put some of the blame for high drug prices on insurance companies. The industry has been mulling a counterattack for some time, as BIO chair and Acorda Therapeutics CEO Ron Cohen discussed publicly in January. As the conference wrapped up, a Morgan Stanley analyst noted that Pfizer the previous week had raised its drug prices nine percent, continuing a regular pattern of price increases. Ed Silverman at STAT reported the analyst note first. The new prices don’t reflect rebates and discounts.
—If Jim Greenwood railing like King Lear in the storm isn’t entertaining enough, two notorious biotech characters have once again inspired the imagination of creative types. Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, just like her fellow black turtleneck wearer Steve Jobs, will get the big screen treatment. First reported by Deadline Hollywood, Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence has signed on to play Holmes. The director is Adam McKay, who turned collateralized debt obligations into riveting cinema in The Big Short. And in New York, these folks are writing a musical about Martin Shkreli—specifically, the hilarious rumor that Bill Murray might steal back the Wu-Tang Clan album Shkreli bought for $2 million.
—Xconomy profiled 27-year-old biotech CEO Alice Zhang, who represents what some might call the Silicon Valleyfication of the life sciences: Impatient with academia, she left her PhD program to start San Francisco-based Verge Genomics and hunt for new ways to target tough neurodegenerative diseases; she is as versed in informatics as she is in biology; and she is steeped in the business structures and tools that tech startups have used for years.
—More developments arrived this week in the Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) saga. The FDA has asked for more data—specifically, data from 13 muscle biopsies from an ongoing Phase 3 trial—before it decides whether to approve Sarepta’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug, eteplirsen. Shares surged about 20 percent as investors took the news as a positive (here’s more about why from TheStreet.com). Cambridge, MA-based Sarepta immediately raised $37.5 million in a stock offering after the share boost.
—Cambridge-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) said that opicinumab, a drug meant to repair the nerve damage in patients with multiple sclerosis, failed a Phase 2 trial. Biogen hasn’t given up on opicinumab yet, but shares tumbled more than 12 percent nonetheless.
—Two more clinical setbacks decimated the shares of Massachusetts biotechs: Ocular Therapeutix’s (NASDAQ: OCUL) OTX-DP failed a trial for allergic conjunctivitis, while Catabasis Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: CATB) CAT-2054 flunked a study in patients with high cholesterol.
—On the positive side, Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) released an overview of Phase 2 data that showed its migraine prevention drug, erenumab, is keeping pace with rival drugs in a heated race to market. The full data set has yet to be released.