Everyone knows cancer sucks. And most are aware that chemo sucks only slightly less than cancer because of the toxic effects it has on the body beyond the intended tumor target(s). Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found promising outcomes from a “sponge” of sorts that absorbs leftover chemicals from chemotherapy treatments in cancer patients. A 3-D printed sponge-like device is inserted into the artery on the opposite side of the tumor from where the chemo injection is given. The chemicals do their job on the tumor and the leftovers are immediately absorbed into the sponge before they’re able to travel into other parts of the body, damaging healthy cells and causing nausea. Findings in pigs show that 60-70% of the leftovers are absorbed prior to the removal of the sponge. That’s a big deal.
Kind of like if your name was Dexter Morgan. We’ll circle back to another unfortunate name thing in a bit. First, Deloitte came out with a nice article on some things to watch for in the US healthcare system in 2019. The themes focus on health system integration, population health, wellness, and virtual patient care. The unfortunate part is that the article was written by Steve Burrill. After we read the article, we thought, “wow, Deloitte is going out on the edge hiring this guy” because those of us who have been around the biotech space for 20+ years know that Steven Burrill ran several highly successfully biotech-related ventures…and was then barred by the SEC after stealing money from his hedge fund. Different Steve. Anywho, at least it wasn’t the wrong Doug.
Yep. Surprised us as well. According to a 2014 article in Human Gene Therapy, the public perception of gene therapy has improved since the 1990s. Didn’t know there was a baseline in 1990 to compare to, but okay. According to the 2014 data, “a majority of respondents (>90%) accept gene therapy as a treatment for severe illnesses such as Alzheimer disease, but this receptivity decreases for conditions perceived as less severe.” As Dr. Seuss might say, “Oh, the places you’ll go.” Because, 30 years removed from the ‘90s, there are actually approved gene therapy treatments (really good source written for pharmacists), and they ain’t cheap. As of January 2019, there are 3 FDA-approved gene therapy products on the market (Kymriah, Yescarta, Luxturna). Anyway, yes Pat, I’d like to buy a vowel.
While New Yorkers have their famed duo of bagels and lox, Eli Lilly is making its own combo with its $8B purchase of Loxo Oncology. The cancer-focused biopharma just recently had its first US approval in Vitrakvi, which can target multiple cancers by focusing on tumor biomarkers instead of the affected tissue area. The deal cements Eli Lilly’s presence in the oncology space, but follows the trend noted in a recent report by EY that says drugmakers have been spending too much on stock buybacks and bolt-on acquisitions instead of megamergers like Takeda/Shire and BMS/Celgene. Loxo stockholders should be pretty happy with the deal—when Loxo shares went public in 2014 they cost $13, and Eli Lilly will be purchasing them for $235 a pop.
If it’s the last thing we ever do. That’s the refrain from seven former FDA commissioners who say the agency should be separated from the Department of Health and Human Services. The former commissioners argue in a piece published in Health Affairs that the change would allow the agency to “… [keep] the agency as up-to-date and effective as possible” by freeing it from partisan politics. You can certainly say that the FDA is in that affected position right now, considering 41% of the agency isn’t working due to a protracted government shutdown. That has consequences like the current FDA commissioner not being able to make his keynote address at this year’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, and food inspections being put on hold. Who’s ready for the next romaine outbreak?
Recently, Lyft hired its first VP of Healthcare, Megan Callahan. Ms. Callahan has previous executive experience at Change Healthcare and McKesson. This hire is part of Lyft’s plan to “reimagine the way healthcare organizations and their patients get around. We know that over 3.6 million Americans can’t get the care they need due to a lack of transportation every year.” Lyft has been busy. Roughly 7.2 million patients will have access to Lyft rides through their exclusive integration with AllScripts and in a pilot program with Hitch Health, there was a 27% drop in missed appointments. Not bad. Lyft (and others like UberHealth) are trying to solve a big problem. According to DaVita, “when a patient who relies on dialysis misses just one appointment, they become 40% more likely to require hospitalization.” Let’s hope the Lyft drivers drive better than Harry Dunne.
Bristol-Myers Squibb has started off the 2019 season of M&A with a huge proposal: buying the biotech Celgene in a $74B deal. If completed, it would be the largest pharma acquisition to date, blowing the previous-record holder—Takeda’s pending Shire acquisition for $62B—out of the water. Both companies are oncology giants, specifically in immunology and blood cancers, but BMS will be acquiring a decent amount of risk with the purchase. Celgene’s market cap has gone down $70B in the past 14 months partly due to poor financial forecasts for when the company’s top drug Revlimid loses patent protection. BMS likely hopes to make that up with six possible product launches in the next few years. Okay, enough numbers. To round out this New Jersey-focused blurb, here’s some New Jersey would-you-rathers.
A “free” health check-up every 5 years is available to everyone from 40 to 74 years old in the UK. (Apparently after 74, you’re on you own.) That’s about 15 million people. But according to the NHS, only about 7 million have taken advantage of the offer since 2013. What, are you too good for “free” healthcare? You don’t need to have your blood pressure, height and weight measured? You’re tired of being yelled at by your spouse for the same things and don’t need your doc doing it too? Yeah, I probably wouldn’t do it either, but you should. If you’re in the age range, be on the lookout for a notice from your healthcare provider. If you’re under 40, remind your parents that it’s a good idea.