Notes From the JPM ’18 Vortex: Gene Therapy’s Reckoning and Lonely Cabs

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people standing on the sidewalk next to a queue of empty cabs outside a hotel, anxiously peering into the oracle of your phone to see when your Uber or Lyft driver, marooned in hellish downtown traffic and only vaguely familiar with the tangle of local one-way streets, would arrive. (Answer: Probably not within the time noted on the app.)

On more than one occasion, our intrepid reporters assumed the cabs that no one was hopping into were spoken for. Our intrepid reporters were proven wrong! The cabbies were sitting around with nothing to do, as they told us, shaking their heads, as we inched away from the curb.

Apparently all those men who turn J.P. Morgan into such an annual bro-fest didn’t pack Occam’s razor into their shaving kits.

Alnylam Execs: Time to Put Money Where Mouths Are

This could be the year Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) executives make good on promises of fairer drug pricing. We’ve been keeping track.

At J.P. Morgan in 2016, CEO John Maraganore told Xconomy his company would be creative about drug pricing but wouldn’t talk specifics. In 2017, president Barry Greene said Alnylam would be “highly willing” to sign performance-based deals “so that payers will appreciate that they’ll only pay where the drug works.”

Greene didn’t waver this week.

Alnylam’s patisiran is currently under FDA review for the rare neurological disease transthyretin amyloidosis. As Xconomy has detailed, it’s been a long road to this point. (Greene joked this week that “we yelled and screamed and shouted from the rooftops” when patisiran cleared Phase 3.)

While Greene and Maraganore have been making public pledges, several products, including one gene therapy, one CAR-T cancer immunotherapy, and cardiovascular medicines evolocumab (Repatha) and sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto), have come to market subject to performance-based deals. With patisiran now on the verge of approval, Alnylam vows to follow suit. “We want to put our money where our mouth is,” Greene says.

“If someone has the extreme kind of benefit, and disease reversal, we should get paid full price,” he says. “And if they derive less benefit, then they should pay less.”

Assuming FDA approval, Alnylam expects to launch patisiran in mid-2018.

Committed to Activism, Bio CEO Holtzman Hopes Others Follow Suit

In the past year Steve Holtzman, the CEO of Decibel Therapeutics, has made an unlikely rise as a political activist. He and Ovid Therapeutics CEO Jeremy Levin have called on their peers to speak out against government policies they don’t agree with. The two have written several letters to the White House—signed by more than 100 biotech executives—on issues such as immigration, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), and women’s rights.

Xconomy checked in with Holtzman about his newfound political activism, which we and others covered last year. He confided that a role that started with a note written on a weekend just to help organize his thoughts—and spread virally through e-mails to friends within the industry—has become something of a responsibility. Expect more letters and rallying cries in the future. “I hope others speak out,” he said. “I think it’s important.”

Holtzman is pessimistic his efforts will have any impact on the current administration, but would love to see a subtler ripple effect. As more CEOs raise their voice, he hopes it will empower their employees, showing that their leaders are speaking on their behalf, “as opposed to saying, your voice is not important, all that matters is money,” he says.

Dressing Down

As if the tech-world incursion of sneakers worn with suits isn’t bad enough, the sartorial bar continued to sag this year with a preponderance of men wearing fleece vests under a suit jacket. We get it. Conference rooms are cold. San Francisco is cold! (Not really.) But this is the divine purpose of sweaters. They are made of wool, and they are warm. But modern sweatshop technology also allows them to be thin, so they can look pretty darn good with a suit. It’s not exactly James Bond, but it’s not bad. Fleece? It looks like you work at Microsoft but still live at home, and your mom forced you to put on a suit for your uncle’s wedding.

Alex Lash contributed to this report

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