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Bio Roundup: Tax Cuts, a Funding Rush, Hemophilia Questions & More

Xconomy National — 

In the penultimate week before the end-of-year recess, Congress raced to provide the drug industry—and the rest of corporate America—a massive tax cut, with breaks for investors, too. Racing to finish their own end-of-year budgets, perhaps, investors poured hundreds of millions into private biotechs, too. If that doesn’t get your blood racing, then how about a look back at ASH, the preeminent hematology conference, and an examination of gene therapy’s pros and cons for hemophilia?

We have all that and more in this week’s roundup. Let’s get to it.

LAW & POLICY

—The GOP tax overhaul requires final approval from each chamber of Congress before heading to the president’s desk. As of this writing, it’s still no sure thing. The current version lowers the corporate tax rate from about 35 percent to 21 percent, a boon to drug makers and other big corporations. Also key to drug industry balance sheets is the tax on overseas profits brought back to the U.S. The “repatriation” rate might not be finalized until the last minute, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. It’s also unclear if the final version would cut or eliminate the R&D credit for orphan disease drug development, which has a lot of folks worried.

—The Senate committee charged with healthcare oversight held another hearing on drug costs this week, specifically to discuss a National Academy of Sciences report that recommends letting the federal government negotiate drug prices.

—One day after the hearing, The Doctor Patient Rights Project, an entity funded by drug maker Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and several health organizations, released a report slamming restrictions on drug access put in place by pharmacy benefit managers.

BLOOD & DATA

—As always there were a flood of stories coming out the American Society of Hematology meeting, which was held in Atlanta this year. Our overview examined the advances in CAR-T for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, hemophilia, and multiple myeloma.

—Xconomy’s Ben Fidler then dug more deeply into the uncertainty surrounding gene therapy’s promise for hemophilia. If and when they arrive, biology and pricing will be two factors that could limit who can get access to them. One example of the uncertainty: Hemophilia A data that one analyst called “inconsistent” caused shares of Spark Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ONCE) to plummet more than 30 percent.

—Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) of Tarrytown, NY, inched closer to bringing the latest so-called checkpoint inhibitor to market after posting positive results in a Phase 2 trial of patients with a deadly form of skin cancer.

—Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) of Indianapolis won’t seek expanded FDA approval of ramucirumab (Cyramza) as first-line treatment for stomach cancer after mixed results in a Phase 3 study.

—Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) has asked the FDA for a speedy review of what could be the first approved RNA interference medicine, patisiran, for transthyretin amyloidosis.

—Aduro Biotech (NASDAQ: ADRO) of Berkeley, CA, has decided to wind down work on its cancer drug CRS-207 after disappointing early-stage clinical results. Aduro has been testing CRS-207, a treatment that uses an engineered strain of Listeria, in mesothelioma, ovarian, and gastric cancers.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

—More than doubling the total of a bio fund it created two years ago, Andreesen Horowitz formed a new $450 million fund that the Silicon Valley venture capital firm plans to invest in life-science companies.

—Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks closed a whopping $275 million Series D round, making it one of the most heavily funded synthetic biology companies ever. Jeff Engel has more on the financing and what it means for the synthetic biology field.

—San Francisco-based Pionyr Immunotherapeutics closed a $62 million Series B round to bring its experimental cancer treatments into clinical trials.

— Kyn Therapeutics, of Cambridge, MA, raised a $49 million Series A round to jump into the fray of companies trying to expand the reach of cancer immunotherapy.

—Relay Therapeutics raised $63 million in a Series B round that the Cambridge, MA, company will use to advance its preclinical cancer drugs toward human studies.

Ben Fidler and Frank Vinluan contributed to this report.

Image of U.S. Capitol by Kevin Dooley via Creative Commons.

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