Out: NIH bud­get cuts. In: Alzheimer’s R&D as law­mak­ers boost pro­posed ’19 spend­ing to $2.3B

The US Sen­ate is feel­ing gen­er­ous to­ward med­ical re­searchers, and that may soon trans­late in­to a big hike in spend­ing on Alzheimer’s re­search — the most frus­trat­ing field in R&D to­day.

Law­mak­ers passed a 2019 bud­get pro­pos­al on Thurs­day that gives the NIH a 5% bump in its bud­get, with an ex­tra $425 mil­lion di­rect­ed specif­i­cal­ly at Alzheimer’s. That would give the agency $2.3 bil­lion for Alzheimer’s, which the AP notes is four times as much as what the NIH spent on the mem­o­ry wast­ing dis­ease four years ago.

The added Alzheimer’s spend­ing rep­re­sents a big chunk of the $2 bil­lion sen­a­tors want to add to the NIH bud­get for fis­cal 2019. Al­to­geth­er they vot­ed 85 to 7 in sup­port of the bud­get bill.

The in­creased fed­er­al spend­ing is be­ing dri­ven by two sim­ple re­al­i­ties: The grow­ing cost of the dis­ease that af­flicts mil­lions and the ap­par­ent help­less­ness by most de­vel­op­ers to bend the course of Alzheimer’s. The steady drum­beat of clin­i­cal fail­ures over a decade-plus leaves pa­tients with no ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies while the on­ly claimed suc­cess by Bio­gen and Ei­sai has been swamped by con­tro­ver­sy and a grow­ing dis­en­chant­ment with the amy­loid be­ta the­o­ry.

Now re­searchers are go­ing ever ear­li­er in try­ing to slow or stop dis­ease pro­gres­sion, while adding new tar­gets like tau and look­ing to at­tack Alzheimer’s with com­bi­na­tion ther­a­pies. This new NIH mon­ey could pro­vide a ma­jor boost to the new think­ing in the field.

It’s not a done deal, with Sen­ate and House rep­re­sen­ta­tives slat­ed to hash out all the de­tails in up­com­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. But it un­der­scores an im­mense amount of sup­port in con­gress for added re­search spend­ing.

“Alzheimer’s is the most ex­pen­sive dis­ease in Amer­i­ca and, with­out a break­through, by 2050 we’ll spend $1.1 tril­lion treat­ing peo­ple with Alzheimer’s each year — twice as much as the an­nu­al de­fense bud­get,” said Mis­souri Sen­a­tor Roy Blunt in a state­ment. “This bill not on­ly meets, but sur­pass­es the $2 bil­lion re­search goal of the Na­tion­al Plan to Ad­dress Alzheimer’s Dis­ease.”

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a big plan to ex­pand its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

Here comes the oral GLP-1 drug for di­a­betes — but No­vo Nordisk is­n't dis­clos­ing Ry­bel­sus price just yet

Novo Nordisk’s priority review voucher on oral semaglutide has paid off. The FDA approval for the GLP-1 drug hit late Friday morning, around six months after the NDA filing.

Rybelsus will be the first GLP-1 pill to enter the type 2 diabetes market — a compelling offering that analysts have pegged as a blockbuster drug with sales estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Ozempic, the once-weekly injectable formulation of semaglutide, brought in around $552 million (DKK 3.75 billion) in the first half of 2019.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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[via AP Images]

Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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