Take that, opioids

The good people at Wake Forest University are working to find a safe, non-addictive pain killer to help fight the current opioid crisis. As published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers “have developed a bifunctional MOP/NOP agonist, called AT-121, that showed potent analgesic effects in nonhuman primates without inducing hyperalgesia, respiratory depression, or dependence. The results suggest that bifunctional MOP/NOP agonists might represent a safe and effective pharmacological tool for treating severe pain.” Well done. Can anyone say Fast Track designation? Researchers observed that AT-121 showed the same level of pain relief as an opioid, but at a 100-times lower dose than morphine and it blunted the addictive effects of oxycodone. Yes, it’s early and the tests were not in humans, but it looks like these researchers are off to a promising start. Best of luck!

Secrets that don’t stay secret

Sometimes you want to get a head start when starting a new company. And sometimes you get caught by the feds for stealing trade secrets. Former GSK scientist Yu Xue pleaded guilty to conspiring to do just that when starting her own biopharmaceutical company in China while still employed by the pharma giant. Prosecutors say Xue transferred documents related to products under development, research data, as well as GSK’s R&D and manufacturing processes to her colleagues in China. Xue, on top of serving up to 10 years in prison, could also be forced to pay restitution to GSK. The court graciously capped that at a reasonable number for a single person to pay, just $2B. Fun fact: that’s larger than the GDP of 26 nations according to the World Bank.

#2 pencils and condoms

The rise in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases has one Maryland, US county including condoms as part of a back-to-school goody bag. Nothing new, right? Plenty of school systems do that these days. The news is in the catalyst for the decision. According to the CDC, a record number—more than 2 million—cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2017, up more than 200,000 over 2016—also a record at the time. 15- to 24-year-olds make up about half. Gonorrhea and syphilis were up 67% and 76%, respectively from 2013 to 2017. Wow. Compounding the issue is the CDC’s concern for an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea, which increased in incidence from 1% in 2013 to 4% in 2017. Here is a review of research on the effects of condom distribution in schools. In summary…chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis: difficult to spell, easy to catch.

Specialty pharmacy market, not so special anymore?

No blue light specials here, no need to run. An analysis of the Inc. 5000 by Drug Channels “reflects the overall specialty (pharmacy) market slowdown.” Why? “Pharmacy revenues from specialty drugs grew by nearly 9% (in 2017), this growth rate was a historical low. Reasons include lower spending for drugs treating hep C, the launch of generic specialty drugs, slower growth in list prices for some specialty drugs, and the launch of specialty products with list prices below those of competitive products.” Remember, just a few years ago, specialty pharmacies were rolling. Go here for a nice primer on specialty pharmacies. Here (see table) is a list of the fastest growing private specialty pharmacies. Specialty pharmacies are critical pieces of the US healthcare system, and while 9% growth is considered “slow” we should all be so lucky to work for such an industry.

These dogs dig their dystrophin

Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, or DMD, has been in the news a lot recently. It’s the most common form of muscular dystrophy and was most recently featured in the Right to Try fight. The FDA also approved the first treatment of DMD’s symptoms in 2017, but a new paper published in Science points to a possible treatment of the root cause of the disorder. Scientists used a system-wide application of CRISPR to efficiently restore dystrophin expression in four dogs, a result that “exceeded [the lead author’s] most optimistic expectations.” There’s a ton of hurdles this treatment would have to pass to be a real therapy in humans, but this could be huge for DMD patients. Also, hey, it’s Labor Day weekend, maybe consider donating to the Muscular Dystrophy Association for Jerry’s Kids.

Pour some sugar on me

Pop quiz: Name the four major macromolecules essential for life. Go ahead, we’re waiting. The four are DNA, proteins, fats, and glycans. According to Dr. Emanual Maverakis, Associate Professor- Departments of Medical Microbiology & Immunology and Dermatology at the University of California, Davis, glycans are the least understood. He notes that “the study of glycans, or glycomics, is about 20 years behind other fields. One reason for this lag is scientists have not developed tools to rapidly identify glycan structures and their attachment sites on people’s cells. Well, get on it because research has shown glycans play a big role in the development of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune pancreatitis. Scientists, put down your Candy Crush, pick a theme song (Pour some sugar on me or Sugar Sugar) and let’s get a move on.