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Bio Roundup: Theranos Cuts, Alnylam Stops, Nobel Eats Its Own & More

Xconomy National — 

[Updated, 11:50 a.m. ET, see below] With the Caribbean and now the southeast U.S. coast bearing the brunt of Hurricane Matthew, we send our thoughts and more to those who have more pressing matters to worry about this week. But the show must go on. The biotech industry saw its own storms pass through, with Theranos, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and Merrimack Pharmaceuticals taking direct hits. Nobel Prizes were also in the air, and DARPA said it would make it rain for biosecurity innovation. To check the latest life sciences forecast, let’s get to the roundup.

TOP STORIES

—After months of playing defense, embattled blood-test maker Theranos announced late Wednesday it would shut down its clinical labs and in-store “wellness centers,” laying off 340 employees. Regulators this summer ordered Theranos to shutter its main lab in Newark, CA, which Theranos said it would appeal. The firm will now focus on its miniLab, which CEO Elizabeth Holmes touted as a follow-on version of its Edison test system at a scientific conference in August. She refused to discuss Edison at the time.

—Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) of Cambridge, MA, said that it would shelve its drug revusiran after 18 patients died in a Phase 3 study to treat the rare disease transthyretin amyloidosis. Officials declined to say how many of the 18 were taking the drug and how many were on placebo. Shares immediately fell more than 40 percent.

—The U.S. military’s high-tech think tank DARPA described Safe Genes, a new program to fund safety measures that can be built into genome editing technology or counter its potential wayward effects. The funding could be as much as $100 million, and the first grants will be announced in 2017.

THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE

—The 2016 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He discovered and elucidated autophagy—“self-eating”—a process cells use to destroy their own damaged components, fight invaders, and more.

—The Nobel in Chemistry went to three scientists, in France, the Netherlands, and the U.S., for their work on molecular machines.

PRICE FIGHTS

—The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), whose drug-value analyses set the pharma industry’s teeth on edge, issued a new report on PD-1 inhibitors, part of the first wave of cancer immunotherapy drugs to be approved. With some caveats, ICER recommended lower prices.

—Meanwhile, in the wake of the Mylan hearings, the Wall Street Journal this week was the latest outlet to record the animosity between drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen who buy drugs in bulk for large employers and other insurance payers.

—[Updated with new item] Shares of Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) slid more than 7 percent Friday after health insurer Anthem (NYSE: ANTM) declared Sarepta’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug eteplirsen (Exondys 51), which costs an average of $300,000 per patient for a year of treatment, “investigational and not medically necessary.” Here’s more on the questions insurers face regarding Sarepta’s drug.

KENDALL SQUARE UPS AND DOWNS

—Separately, Sarepta struck a second deal in as many weeks to develop combination therapies for Duchenne.

—Ra Pharma filed for an IPO, looking for more cash as it prepares to take on rare disease drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN).

—Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MACK) announced layoffs of 22 percent of its staff and the resignation of CEO Robert Mulroy.

CLINICAL NEWS

—Longtime partners Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) reported positive news for dupilumab in a Phase 3 study to treat atopic dermatitis, a severe form of eczema. The FDA could make an approval decision next spring.

—Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) said its psoriasis treatment guselkumab fared better head-to-head against adalimumab (Humira), which is the world’s best-selling drug thanks to its use in several autoimmune diseases.

—A dozen major medical centers will team up to run an unorthodox and very large “precision medicine” pancreatic cancer study.

AROUND EXOME, AND BEYOND

—Indiana: The Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) animal health division Elanco is buying Boehringer Ingelheim’s Vetmedica, which makes animal vaccines, for $885 million.

—San Diego: Biotech firm Sirenas reeled in a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to extract chemicals from marine organisms that might treat neglected diseases.

—Wisconsin: On the heels of a big split, stem-cell pioneer Cellular Dynamics International will spin out a new company that aims to treat retinal disease.

—The guy who took Alzheimer’s drug developer Axovant Sciences (NASDAQ: AXON) public at record levels is now pushing a new company, Myovant Sciences, toward an IPO.

—Another week, another Allergan (NYSE: AGN) deal: $250 million to AstraZeneca for rights to an experimental drug to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

LIVE, FROM XCONOMY, IT’S…

—Two Xconomy biotech events are on the fall calendar. At MIT, we will showcase a series of talks with Boston-area scientists, investors, and executives. In December we’ll gather in San Francisco to discuss the U.S. election’s effect on national biotech and health issues.

Image “U.S. Territorial Acquisitions” by Joaquin Martinez via Creative Commons.