Brainstorm Health: Allogene IPO, Medtronic Hack Concern, Pharmacy Gag Clause

October 11, 2018, 7:43 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers—This is Sy.

Biotech’s red-hot IPO streak shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, on Thursday, cancer drug maker Allogene Therapeutics pulled off the biggest public offering in at least a decade (and one of the most lucrative, ever, period). Allogene raised $324 million in an offering that pegs the company’s market value at an eye-popping $2 billion-plus.

The last time a firm even came close to that was Alzheimer’s drug developer Axovant’s $315 million raise in 2015. It should be noted that Axovant’s lead pre-clinical drug at the time went on to crash and burn in spectacular fashion a little more than a year ago.

So just what does Allogene do? The firm is developing a different approach to a new form of cancer therapy called CAR-T. This kind of treatment involves re-engineering patients’ own immune cells in order to become targeted cancer killers; the modified cells are then grown in a lab, multiplied, and then re-inserted into patients, and has shown promise for some patients with deadly blood cancers. The first therapies of this kind, from Novartis and Gilead subsidiary Kite Pharma, respectively, were approved last year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Allogene’s methodology aims to create an “off-the-shelf” version of CAR-T therapy. That is, their treatment, theoretically, could be created from any immune cell donors’ cells rather than having to extract each batch individually from a patient. This would ostensibly cut down on manufacturing and production costs while reducing invasive procedures on cancer patients.

The management team at Allogene, which is led by Arie Belldegrun and David Chang, is likely a large part of the reason for the monster IPO. The pair were previously at Kite Pharma itself, which was sold to Gilead for $12 billion right ahead of its landmark CAR-T treatment approval for Yescarta. The biotech’s off-the-shelf tech was folded in from drug giant Pfizer.

Read on for the day’s news.


Medtronic pacemaker programmer updates halted over hack concerns. Medical device giant Medtronic has reportedly disabled updates to nearly 35,000 programming devices commonly used by health care providers to access implanted pacemakers. The company says that the CareLink devices could be vulnerable to cyberattacks, although no actual exploits have been reported to date, according to Reuters. (Reuters)


Trump signs bill nixing pharmacy 'gag' clause. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed legislation meant to make drug pricing less opaque, part of a series of initiatives the administration claims will help lower how much Americans have to pay for prescription medication. The bills are meant to nix the so-called "gag" clause for pharmacists, which prevents them from (among other things) disclosing to patients whether or not a certain medication would be cheaper if purchased out-of-pocket rather than through their health insurance (yes, this is a thing that regularly happens). (NBC News)


The U.S. doesn't fare too well in human capital. The World Bank has launched a new index of "how well governments enable their people to reach their full potential." It's called the Human Capital Index. And the U.S. isn't exactly sitting pretty on it. America tied with Serbia for the 24th spot on the list; Number one was Singapore. Part of the reason? U.S. education appears to deliver decidedly less bang-for-the-buck compared with other nations. (Fortune)

Ebola cases are spiking and expected to persist. The number of Ebola cases in Congo has swelled to nearly 200, and public health officials are concerned that matters will only get worse as local residents grow increasingly skeptical of interacting with health care workers charged with containing the outbreak. The current rash of Ebola cases has been exacerbated by violent conflict in the eastern region of Congo, which has made vaccination and checkup efforts particularly difficult. (The Hill)


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