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Brainstorm Health: Sangamo Stock, FDA Walgreens Warning, DNA Malware

Greetings, readers.

Gene therapy and gene editing have taken the life sciences by storm in the past few years. We’ve seen the approvals of treatments that re-engineer patients’ cells to fight cancer and shocking claims of gene-edited babies abroad; dozens of biotechs continue to experiment with technologies such as CRISPR and “gene silencing,” techniques which could (theoretically) curb a multitude of diseases, from rare inherited disorders to cancers.

But the sector had a dour day as a pair of early-stage studies came up short. Sangamo Therapeutics stock sank 31% in Thursday trading on interim data for gene-editing techniques to treat the rare disorders MPS I and II.

It’s a particularly unfortunate setback since the news wasn’t all bad. The underlying technology actually did appear to work on some level – just not nearly enough to produce a meaningful clinical benefit for patients at this point, according to CEO Sandy Macrae.

In another part of the sector, Solid Biosciences’ gene therapy treatment for the devastating movement disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) also appeared to fall short, absolutely devastating the small biotech’s stock, which fell 68%.

Again, these are early-stage results. But it goes to show just how fraught the drug making business can be, even in an era of pioneering treatments.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Malware in the DNA. Here’s a fun – and insane – one I forgot to flag earlier this week: Researchers from the University of Washington have reportedly been able to encode malware into human DNA which can infect a genome sequencer that reads it. Read that sentence a few more times. And then read this fascinating piece. (Wired)

Lyft ratchets up its Medicare partnership. Lyft has been in the medical transportation game for a while already. And it shows no signs of slowing down. The ride share giant on Thursday announced that it’s expanding its partnership with Medicare Advantage to provide non-emergency medical transport. These services could include rides to doctor appointments, to pick up prescription drugs from pharmacies, and to and from screenings. (Becker’s Hospital Review)


Food and Drug Administration issues warning to Walgreens. The FDA is naming-and-shaming Walgreens, calling out the retail giant for being the pharmacy chain most likely to sell tobacco products to minors. “I will be writing the corporate management of Walgreens and requesting a meeting with them to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ non-compliance,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement. Walgreens responded by saying it would cooperate with the agency to address the alleged violations. (Fortune)


The underinsurance problem is in the private sector. When you think, “rising medical costs,” do your thoughts immediately flock to headlines about the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, or Medicaid? You should add employer-provided health insurance to the list, according to a new Commonwealth Fund study. The think tank’s report found that, “among adults who were insured all year, 29% were underinsured in 2018, up from 23% in 2014.” The kicker? “People in employer plans saw the biggest erosion in coverage.” (Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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