Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

For scientists at the bench, COVID-19 testing a daily ritual

In a pilot program, nearly 230 employees from a dozen biotech startups in Cambridge and Watertown, Mass. regularly visit the Broad Institute for COVID-19 testing. The Boston Globe’s Jonathan Saltzman reports that while much of the world has gone remote during the pandemic, biotech companies have been taking precautions to allow scientists back in the lab – from testing and wearing face masks to maintaining social distancing and working in shifts. Could the biotech community offer strategies for other industries seeking to reopen onsite work?

The (virtual) show must go on: ASCO 2020

Pharmaceutical Technology’s coverage on ASCO 2020, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, notes a shift in pharmaceutical developers’ focus from tissue-specific to tissue-agnostic drug development. As the use of next-generation sequencing and broad molecular profiling increases in diagnostic labs, targeting niche genetic aberrations with a broad label across multiple solid cancers could be an effective treatment option.

Critical considerations for COVID-19 vaccine development

If you have been infected or vaccinated for coronavirus, are you protected from getting sick again? Not necessarily. In new paper in Nature Biotechnology, co-authors George Church, SmartPharm Therapeutics CEO Jose Trevejo and researchers from HelixNano write that antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of infection has been observed in coronaviruses. This means patients who have been infected or vaccinated can later be infected by another strain – and potentially suffer even more serious outcomes. “Careful design and testing of vaccines or alternative approaches to prophylaxis will be needed to prevent ADE,” they write.

Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

Life Science stories you may have missed – 01/23/20

Coronavirus and “shoe-leather epidemiology”

Wired’s Megan Molteni has a way of pulling readers inside her stories with colorful and pointed observations. In her piece on 1/21, notes that despite considerable technology advancement since SARS “figuring out how new diseases spread is still an exercise in shoe-leather epidemiology.” Viral DNA analysis is – and perhaps always will be – only one part of an epidemiological picture.

Read more in Wired

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Precision medicine mustn’t be about drugs alone

On its surface, Vinay Prasad’s piece in Nature is a story of two ships passing in the night. His ship, enlightened public health policy, is often overshadowed by the bright lights of blockbuster drugs, at least in popular media.  The “concepts” of population health and social determinants of health are esoteric by comparison. But these two ships aren’t on different courses. Medicine isn’t about drugs alone, nor should precision medicine, and Vinay is on to something worth closer scrutiny.

Read Vinay’s piece in Nature

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Cardiff University scientists discover T-cell receptor that recognizes and kills multiple cancers

On Monday, researchers from Cardiff University published a study in Nature Immunology about the discovery of a new T-cell receptor (TCR) that “exhibits pan-cancer cell recognition” and could make a patient’s T-cells capable of killing autologous melanoma without affecting healthy cells. The research is still early, but the potential for “pan-cancer, pan-population immunotherapies” to improve health outcomes and health economics is significant.

See study in Nature Immunology

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Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

Life Science stories you may have missed

Despite challenges, experts predict gene therapy market will continue to grow

At the recent event “A Look Ahead at Biotech in 2020,” experts commented on the challenges ahead for the field of gene therapy. As Alex Philippidis reports for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, new payment models are needed to provide clarity around reimbursements for new treatments. From a science perspective, the panel raised the concern that some genes are too large to be packed into vectors and infused into patients. And while manufacturers are making progress building new facilities or partnering with CDMOs to create capacity to keep up with demand, manufacturing bottlenecks remain a challenge.

Despite the hurdles, the experts are bullish. “The fact that we’re talking about curing some of these diseases that are really horrible diseases, fatal, in kids often, it’s pretty remarkable when you think about it,” said STAT reporter Adam Feuerstein.

Read the full story.

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One pill, once a month

Researchers have long tried to merge the benefits of long-acting contraceptives with the convenience of an oral pill, Megan Molteni writes for WIRED. Several years ago, scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT began testing a once-a-month oral birth control pill that could have broad appeal not only for the millions of women who take daily birth control pills, but also for women in developing countries who currently don’t have access to reliable family planning options. That’s what Boston-biotech Lyndra Therapeutics hopes to accomplish with its development program to bring the once-monthly oral contraceptive out of the lab and into the hands of women worldwide.  

Read the full story.

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“Anti-Theranos” gets FDA approval for blood test

Forbes contributor Peter Cohan contends that Israeli startup Sight Diagnostics is well-positioned to take on industry heavy-weight Sysmex, a $2.7B Japanese manufacturer of blood testing machines, and centralized testing labs such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics with its now FDA-approved OLO analyzer. “Unlike Theranos – the defunct Palo Alto company that claimed it could conduct over 200 blood tests from a single drop of blood – Sight’s product has been vetted by scientists,” he writes. The technology is backed by clinical researchers who say its performance is comparable to bigger, more complicated analyzers. Cohan predicts OLO will see initial update in small clinics and hospital departments but sees potential for Sight Diagnostics to corner a larger pocket of the market.

Read the Forbes column. 

 

Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

Recent life science news bites you may have missed

From Jen Heady, Vice President at Greenough Brand Storytellers

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Prime editing takes the spotlight

Just six years after Feng Zhang and George Church first harnessed the power of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing, WIRED magazine has already coined the term “classic CRISPR” to describe this now widely referenced genome editing approach. The term “classic” differentiates CRISPR-Cas9 from a hot new CRISPR technique: prime editing. While critics say prime editing may be less practical than existing methods, the number of new genome editing techniques and studies introduced over the last several years is a testament to the incredibly fast progression of science.

Read Megan Molteni’s coverage in WIRED

Check out the Broad Institute’s handy infographic explaining the prime editing process

For a history of CRISPR, visit the Broad Institute’s CRISPR timeline

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VC funding: It’s all about who you know

In her latest for STAT, Kate Sheridan covers how venture capital’s reliance on relationships is contributing to gender, racial and geographic disparities in the biotech space. What can be done to increase diversity? For entrepreneurs, the answer may be as simple as engaging with venture capitalists outside of your own network before launching a company. Bottom line: it’s still about who you know, but don’t limit your network to those in your current circle.

Read the full story

https://www.statnews.com/2019/10/31/social-connections-first-science-second/

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Inside scoop: A former Biogen employee on the company’s “shocking” Alzheimer’s news

Biogen made big headlines by announcing that it will submit aducanumab for FDA approval after halting a study on the Alzheimer’s drug earlier this year. Since the news dropped, journalists, Wall Street analysts and experts have speculated on how the company could have reinterpreted the data so drastically. As a former Biogen employee who “worked on and around aducanumab,” Ted Whitford writes that Biogen hasn’t been afraid to admit failures in the past, and that he hopes the company made a mistake in its earlier analysis. “But if it didn’t,” writes Whitford, “and this is another example of the American public watching big pharma trying to spin bad data, then I can’t help but wonder if Biogen, and perhaps the industry has lost its way.” One thing is certain: all eyes will be on Biogen next time it announces data on the buzzworthy drug. 

Read Ted Whitford’s “First Opinion” piece for STAT

 

Life Sciences stories you may have missed – 06/18/20

Recent life science articles you may have missed

Recent news bites you may have missed

9/25/19

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Move over, biologics. Still room for innovation around the daily pill.

A new study shows that a cheap, daily pill that combines low doses of three blood pressure drugs with a cholesterol drug can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol. While the 300-person study did not last long enough to measure heart attacks or strokes, a larger five-year study in Iran found that the pill lowered the danger of heart attack, stroke or heart failure by a third. In other countries, the pill has been used to treat heart conditions in places with limited access to medical care – a model the researchers believe could be replicated among vulnerable patient populations in the United States.

Read more on the findings

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Expanding access to clinical trials

In a deep dive on cancer clinical trials, Biopharma Dive reports some cancer centers have encountered challenges filling available trials and say there are more open than necessary, creating an “economic drain” on institutions. One of the problems? The bulk of studies are conducted at large academic medical centers. Eric Rubin, vice president of global clinical oncology at Merck Research Laboratories, suggests bringing more clinical trials to community sites could help make them more accessible and efficient.

Read the full story

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ICER plays “the price is right”

ICER claims to assess a drug’s “intrinsic value to patients,” but determining a drug’s value to any one individual patient who might benefit is far more subjective. According to a recent article in Managed Healthcare Executive, “the value ICER brings to the discussion is providing clarity around where treatments work and where there’s uncertainty.” While it’s positive to see an increased focus on patient outcomes, putting a price on a treatment’s worth won’t magically clear up the reimbursement controversy.

Read the full story

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CAR T primer

For a simple explainer and graphic on CAR T-cell therapies, check out Dana Farber’s blog:

https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2019/09/car-t-cell-therapy-for-pediatric-patients-the-latest-updates/

Recent life science articles you may have missed

Recent life science articles you may have missed

From Jen Heady, Vice President at Greenough Brand Storytellers


Flag thrown on DTC genetic testing

Two years ago, 23andme proudly announced that the FDA would allow it to market its Personal Genome Service Genetic Health Risk (GHR) tests for 10 diseases or conditions, the first such approval for a direct to consumer genetic test. Fast forward to today: increasingly, consumers look to genetic tests for health insights, despite warnings from testing companies that findings shouldn’t be treated as medical diagnoses. In a recent article for The Guardian, Hannah Devlin writes that doctors are seeing an influx of patients bringing in results indicating false positives for cancer and other diseases, making a strong case for increased regulation.

Read the full story in The Guardian


DTC genetic testing, round 2

Consumer access to genetic test results – combined with increased adoption of next-generation sequencing in clinical settings – is leading to errors in ordering and interpretation of genetic tests, according to new research in the July/August edition of The Cancer Journal. But don’t throw the test results out with the bath water. According to the study authors, when a genetic counselor is involved the chance of error is greatly reduced. They recommend improving education for healthcare professionals, lifting policy barriers and investing in non-traditional genetic counseling delivery methods for more accurate test ordering and analysis.

Read GenomeWeb’s coverage on the findings


Coverage for CAR T

Good news in cancer care: CMS announced Medicare will cover CAR T-cell therapy without the previous requirement for evidence development, which put the burden on hospitals to collect and report data on patient outcomes to ensure coverage. Also new, Medicare will now cover CAR T therapy in outpatient settings, which could greatly reduce the cost of care for patients undergoing treatment. Will private insurers follow suit? The jury is still out.

Read more from The Washington Post


Stop the stigma

Despite evidence that medications to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) are safe and effective, in 2017 80% of people who needed treatment did not receive it. NPR recently tackled the issue in a story on lack of access to buprenorphine, an FDA-approved drug that improves outcomes and saves lives in patients with OUD. Barriers to access include too few medical providers to write prescriptions as well as pharmacists unwilling to fill prescriptions for people who need them. Unfortunately, for a sick patient in withdrawal, heroin or fentanyl can be far easier and faster to obtain – cheaply – than medication-assisted treatment.

Read the full story from NPR, WHYY and Kaiser Health News