Editor's note

The 10 most popular stories in Endpoints News — so far in 2017

John Carroll

Since Arsalan Arif and I ramped up the main edition of Endpoints News 16 months ago, we’ve published more than a million words on biopharma R&D.

Tolstoy, eat your heart out.

This year we’ve increased web traffic, tracking close to an average of 20,000 readers per day — with more than 22,000 email subscribers — which is considerably higher than where we started in the middle of 2016.

So what are biopharma people reading in Endpoints?

Every Black Friday we mark the holiday with our top 10 list of our most popular reports (here’s last year’s version). Readers voted with their fingers, and here are their top 10 stories.

1 Merck was hit hard by a vicious cyberattack yesterday. Here is what we know.

Publisher Arsalan Arif wrote the best-read report of the year at Endpoints News after hearing about a global cyberattack which blasted Merck, causing chaos at the pharma giant. Over time, we would hear about hundreds of millions in damages, which are still racking up at the company. Merck says it did what it could to protect itself, but this virus hit hard. Chances are, cybersecurity has taken on a whole new meaning at Merck.

2 Top 20 blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — EvaluatePharma

If there’s one thing 15 years in the trenches of biotech reporting has taught me, it’s that industry readers like some insights on the big drugs in the late-stage pipeline. It tells us who’s doing the best work, which companies have the best prospects and where the big bets are being made. There’s a lot more to this than peak sales, but the drugs picked by EvaluatePharma represent a veritable treasure trove of blockbusters worth potentially more than $30 billion. Check it out.

3 The top 15 spenders in the global drug R&D business: 2017

Those companies that dominate the late-stage pipeline are also typically the ones that foot the lions’s share of the bill for drug development. Last year, the big bill due for the top 15 companies’ research budgets resulted in a wimpy payout, with a big drop in new drug approvals, but that’s being sandwiched between two solid years of successes at the FDA. I’ve been following this R&D number for a long while now. And while the focus may change and people are hired and fired, the engine of drug development overall remains in high gear. It’s also true that high gear is not good enough, and that longterm productivity issue continues to haunt the industry’s future.

4 British billionaire Jim Mellon and high-profile partners roll the dice on an anti-aging upstart

We are on the cusp of a tidal shift in biotech R&D, with more and more companies looking to develop therapies that can add better life to your years, and gradually more years to your life. British billionaire Jim Mellon wrote a book on the topic, and now he and some close colleagues are diving in directly to raise cash and start work. These trends take years to play out, so don’t look for any overnight revolutions in drug R&D. Still, the wheels are turning, and readers are paying close attention.

5 In staggering setback, toxic reaction kills Cellectis’ first CAR-T patient, forcing trial halt

CAR-T has a safety issue, as anyone familiar with the field knows all too well. Cellectis is out to make one of these new cancer therapies — now crafted from patient cells — so they can be made in bulk and taken down from the shelf as needed. But an early death helped raise the red flag for this new kind of CAR-T as well. The FDA lifted this hold recently, allowing Cellectis to go back into the clinic, but only after the French biotech came up with a host of new safety measures. Revolutions are never easy. Or safe. This was a timely reminder that those factors really never change.

6 The scoop: Marathon’s R&D program for Duchenne MD drug likely came in at a bargain basement price

This is one of my favorite stories of the year. I’m glad it was one of yours, too. Marathon Pharma was trying to pull a fast one when it slipped through an application on an old cheap steroid as an orphan therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Quite a few parents preferred deflazacort over a really cheap generic alternative, paying around $1,000 a year to get it from a London supplier. According to Marathon, it had to charge $84,000 a year for its new therapy — pointing to the big clinical program needed for the approval. We blew that theory sky high with some professional estimates of what it really cost, and how the company looked to make a killing. The story blew up, lawmakers got involved and Marathon decided to sell it off and take the money and run. Now PTC is the proud owner, and its new price runs along a sliding scale based on weight. It’s not really cheaper at all, but the controversy has blown over — for now.

7 Terrible optics: AstraZeneca shares take a hit following report that CEO Soriot is moving to Teva

Months later, this headline still surprises me. And I wrote it. Pascal Soriot had been fighting for a turnaround at AstraZeneca for the past 5 years. To reportedly be interested in taking the Teva job would be another way of saying ‘so long, suckers’ to everyone he managed at AstraZeneca. Soriot eventually made it clear that he wasn’t leaving AstraZeneca, and eventually Teva announced it had signed a new CEO. But Soriot never denied he discussed the opening. And this story always remains in the back of everyone’s heads as AstraZeneca makes a halting journey back from the valley of death it’s been in.

8 King cancer: The top 10 therapeutic areas in biopharma R&D

There’s no doubt that 2017 is the year of cancer R&D. New projects are peaking, breakthroughs are gaining landmark approvals and more money than ever has flowed into the field. As a result, as we pointed out in this breakdown of R&D projects by therapeutic field, there’s now cancer R&D and everything else that is going on. We’ve followed up with more data points that underscore this overwhelming trend. And you can expect to hear a lot more about this as companies compete over a finite number of patients and market share. Some trends have consequences, and this is one of them.

9 Alnylam achieves breakthrough RNAi success as PhIII patisiran study hits all goals, shares soar

This really was a remarkable year for major breakthroughs. Alnylam’s success with the Phase III for patisiran sets up its first ever FDA application, after 15 years of hard work. This company stayed true to the RNAi faith while big pharma companies bailed and doubts grew that anyone could ever make a commercial success out of it. But the crew at Alnlyam made it happen. That kind of success deserves to be recognized, and the industry clearly didn’t overlook the implications.

10 In a stunning setback, Roche says its top cancer drug Tecentriq failed a key PhIII study

Ironically, I’m writing this up on the same day that Roche’s stock jumped 6%, largely because its triple combo of Tecentriq, Avastin and chemo proved effective in increasing progression-free survival for first-line lung cancer. Back in May, though, its failure for a Phase III bladder cancer trial, after an accelerated approval, underscored just how fragile success can be in the PD-1/L1 checkpoint arena. One company grabs the lead, the next day they blow up in the clinic, or a rival does better in its chosen arena. Now several years into the checkpoint revolution, the surprises keep on coming with amazing regularity, driving on more competition for what is rapidly becoming a wildly overcrowded market niche. This was just one chapter of a story that shows no signs of coming to a close — but change is coming.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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