Geneticists are testing out engineered viruses and CRISPR to fight citrus disease.

By Clifton Leaf and Sy Mukherjee
May 17, 2017
May 17, 2017

Greetings, readers. This is Sy.

CRISPR gene-editing has already been vaunted as a tool that could eventually be used to tackle everything from HIV/AIDS to sickle cell disease to a variety of other disorders. But could it also save America’s fruit?

That’s what geneticists and local growers in states like Florida are trying to figure out. Floridian agricultural company Southern Gardens Citrus wants to use an engineered form of a virus that devastates citrus fruit to attack a bacterium that spells even worse consequences for oranges. CRISPR may also be deployed against this citrus greening disease that’s ravaged American orange production, according to Nature.

“[Some] projects aim to edit the genome of citrus trees using CRISPR–Cas9 to make them more resistant to the pest, or engineer trees to express defense genes or short RNA molecules that prevent disease transmission. Local growers have also helped to fund an international project that has sequenced citrus trees to hunt for more weapons against citrus greening,” writes the publication.

A tasty use for next-gen science, indeed. Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Amazon may be getting into the pharmacy business. Amazon may be getting ready to disrupt yet another industry. A bombshell CNBC report cites sources who say the tech giant is hiring talent geared towards a new pharmacy benefits unit. The rumors alone were enough to send Walgreens and CVS stock down more than 2% each in early Wednesday trading. However, if the news is true, Amazon has its work cut out for it. Pharmacy distribution is far more regulated than the types of products you can typically buy off of Amazon. (CNBC)

Theranos strikes deal with investors to avoid lawsuits. Theranos and CEO Elizabeth Holmes have been trying mightily to shake off the firm’s mountain of regulatory and legal problems. And, while it’s still an open question whether or not the firm will ever be able to live up to a fraction of its original promise to upend the blood device sector, it’s been chipping away at several of its biggest headaches. On Tuesday, the company announced that it would be rewarding interested investor new stock in exchange for avoiding lawsuits. Earlier this month, Theranos struck a settlement with a major early investor, and in April, bartered less harsh civil penalties by federal regulators for agreeing to stay away from blood testing for two years. (Fortune)


INDICATIONS

Johnson & Johnson plots ambitious five-year plan. Drug giant Johnson & Johnson has quite the goal for 2021: more than 10 new drugs, each with the potential to rake in more than $1 billion in sales each year, either on the market or filed for FDA approval. These experimental treatments run the gamut from flu drugs to cancer medicines to depression therapies. And these are just brand new products—as is the norm in the biopharma industry, J&J will also be looking to add on new indications to its existing product line.

Bayer blood cancer drug nabs FDA priority review. The Food and Drug Administration has given Bayer’s experimental blood cancer treatment copanlisib a priority review designation after the drug showed promise in fighting back follicular lymphoma in 60% of participants in a mid-stage clinical trial. The designation slashes four months off of the regulatory review period for the drug. Analysts say the new trial data will likely boost their projections of the drug’s sales if it’s ultimately cleared for the market. (Reuters)


THE BIG PICTURE

Feds sue UnitedHealth for second time in one month. Insurance giant UnitedHealth has been sued once again by the Justice Department for allegedly bilking Medicare of more than $1 billion in improper payments. This is the second DOJ suit against the company in the past several weeks, and both cases center of whistleblower suits lobbed at UnitedHealth under the False Claims Act. The suit alleges that the health insurer received excess Medicare payments by providing misleading and inaccurate information about the health status and associated costs of plan holders. UnitedHealth has denied the charges and pledged to fight them vigorously in court. (Fortune)


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