Bio Roundup: Dunsire’s Danish, Price Hikes, Rare-Disease Race & More

Xconomy National — 

[Corrected, 7/6/18, 1:26 pm. See below.] Xconomy was dumbstruck this week, and not by the fireworks overhead. Our friend and one of our earliest employees, San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow, died suddenly last weekend. Bruce covered everything—and everyone—in San Diego’s innovation scene, including the life sciences. Some of our favorite stories of his sprang from that breadth of knowledge, like his feature on the use of blockchain to help people share genomic data for public benefit, or his profile of the Iraqi immigrant and biotech CEO who had complicated feelings about the Trump travel ban.

This week, our most important task has been to celebrate his life and share his stories. We’ve been collecting memories, anecdotes, some of Bruce’s favorite songs, and a lot more here. Rest in peace, Bruce.

There were few fireworks to be found in the slow news week for biotech and the life sciences. One exception: Drug companies like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA) registered mid-year price hikes that seem to fly in the face of the drumbeat of rhetoric from President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about reining in drug prices. For example, “voluntary massive” price cuts were supposed to be coming in June, the president said. It’s part of a much longer track record that began with Trump during the presidential campaign. To use a phrase that was misapplied to Trump recently, his administration continues to be all hat, no cattle when it comes to taking on the drug companies.

In other news, Xconomy examined the benefits of a blood test for prostate cancer and updated the race between two biotechs to treat a rare disease. We also covered how Boston-area biotech Aveo Pharmaceuticals lost a partner, medical device giant Boston Scientific gained a new product, and Boston biotech veteran Deborah Dunsire got a new job. Let’s make our way to the roundup.


—A blood test to detect a protein variant called AR-V7 can improve the lives of patients with an aggressive, dangerous form of prostate cancer, a new study reported.

—The race for FDA approval to treat the rare disease transthyretin amyloidosis is coming down the stretch. The most recent data for two competing drugs, from Akcea Therapeutics (NASDAQ: AKCA) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), were published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, and several real-world questions about the drugs have started to come into focus.

—Roche’s Genentech division said that a combination of its immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and a modified chemotherapy met its goals in a key breast cancer study. No data were available. [A previous version of this item gave the incorrect type of cancer.]


—Drug firm Mylan (NASDAQ: MYL) has become a drug-price punching bag for its regular price hikes of the EpiPen, an epinephrine injector. But generic competition is coming. Adamis Pharma (NASDAQ: ADMP) licensed commercial rights to its epinephrine injector, Symjepi, to the generics division of Novartis (NYSE: NVS).

—The FDA has curtailed the use of atezolizumab and rival immunotherapy pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in the treatment of bladder cancer.

—Late last week the FDA said it wants to hire more people, and faster, under the rules granted by the 21st Century Cures Act. The report came days after the White House said it aimed to move food safety regulation from the FDA to the USDA.


—A drug partnership between Aveo Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: NVS) and Novartis (NYSE: NVS) will end next month. Cambridge, MA-based Aveo disclosed this week that Novartis is terminating the pact to develop a preclinical drug for cachexia, the muscle atrophy and weakness caused by cancer, due to changes in “strategic priorities.”

—More of the cash backing U.S. biotech companies is coming from China-based venture capital, according to a Pitchbook analysis reported by the Financial Times. In the first half of this year, the value of investments from China made in U.S. biotechs was $5.1 billion, topping the $4 billion China-based entities pumped into the sector in all of 2017.

–Liquidia Technologies joined the growing list of companies planning an IPO, as the Research Triangle Park, NC, company moves forward with clinical testing of two compounds developed with its nano-particle technology.

—Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) continued its acquisition spree, inking a $202 million deal to buy Cryterion Medical, a Carlsbad, CA, startup that has developed a medical device to treat irregular heartbeats.

–Catalent (NYSE: CTLT), a Somerset, NJ, contract drug manufacturer, reached a $133 million deal to acquire Juniper Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: JNPR) of Boston. Juniper markets a progesterone gel (Crinone), but the more attractive asset to Catalent is Juniper’s Nottingham, U.K. sites for developing and manufacturing drugs.


—Deborah Dunsire, a fixture in Boston biopharma at companies large and small for decades, is decamping to Denmark for a new role as CEO of Lundbeck.

—The top two executives at Atlanta regenerative medicine firm MiMedx (NASDAQ: MDXG) resigned amid long-simmering allegations of financial and sales malpractice.

—Dan Ollendorf, chief scientific officer of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, is leaving the drug-price watchdog to take a post at Tufts University. Starting in September, Ollendorf will become director of value assessment at the Tufts Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health.

Frank Vinluan contributed to this report.

Image courtesy of Dave Winer via a Creative Commons license.