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Brainstorm Health: Roche Jecure Deal, Amazon AWS and Amgen, Vertex CF Drug

November 27, 2018, 9:05 PM UTC

Hello, readers. Unfortunately, I’m embroiled in a bit of a post-Thanksgiving break travel nightmare at the moment, so we’re going to have to leave you with a short one today.

Sy Mukherjee


Amazon's involvement in drug development. Amazon's purchase of online pharmacy PillPack sent tongues wagging over the tech giant's possible ambitions in the drug supply chain. But one of Amazon's most significant contributions to drug R&D actually lives up in the cloud, as Amazon Web Services' big new partnership with biotech Amgen highlights. The firms announced Tuesday that Amgen will be shifting the vast majority of its cloud-based data infrastructure over to AWS. Real world uses of the tech include "high performance computing platforms at scale on AWS to support Clinical Pharmacology modeling and simulation and to enable scientists in R&D to search, explore, and run advanced analytics," said Amazon in a press release. “We see our expanded relationship with AWS as an important enabler to advance our overall Information Systems Strategy," added Amgen chief information officer Mike Zahigian in a statement. "The choice to go in this direction was influenced in no small part by technologists in information systems rapidly adopting AWS technologies over the last few years to accelerate innovation. We see increased use of AWS facilitating our ability to scale our business at a faster pace and deliver innovative applications that contribute to our mission to serve patients."


Roche snaps up Jecure in quest for liver disease drugs. Roche's Genentech unit is making a play for the liver disease (and broader anti-inflammatory) space by acquiring the early stage biotech Jecure Therapeutics, which specializes in an experimental class of anti-inflammatory therapies called NLRP3 inhibitors. Theoretically, these could play a role in everything from NASH, a liver disorder involving fatty tissue, to cardiovascular diseases and irritable bowel syndrome. “We’ve had a long-standing interest in targeting inflammatory pathways that may play a role in a number of serious diseases,” said Roche's pharma partnering chief James Sabry in a statement.

Vertex continues its cystic fibrosis success story. Rare disease specialist Vertex Pharmaceuticals on Tuesday announced impressive clinical trial results for another one of the company's cystic fibrosis treatments. Vertex shares rose about 5% in Tuesday trading on the strength of two phase three clinical trials assessing a triple combination of its existing (and lucrative) CF treatments Orkambi and tezacaftor along with a new experimental agent dubbed VX-659.  (Reuters)


Polio like illness confirmed in 31 states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Monday confirmed that there have been 116 cases of the mysterious, polio-like illness acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) across 31 states, which causes weakenss in the arms and legs by attacking the central nervous system. The situation has gotten serious enough, and the illness mysterious enough, that the CDC has established a task force to investigate and innovate. "This task force will ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences," said CDC director Robert Redfield in a statement Monday. (Fortune)

The albatross of the book bag. Here's one that hits close to home for me—the Indian government has issued a firm rebuke to schools that force their students to carry heavy (and I mean really, really heavy) book bags to schlep around their school supplies and textbooks. The common practice in the country harms students' back health and wellbeing and can even cause permanent spinal damage, according to the government report. (I immigrated from India as a young child but then moved back at one point for a year during fourth grade, and I distinctly remember what an albatross those ridiculous book bags were round our backs.) (Reuters)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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