Brainstorm Health: Liquid Biopsy, Sarepta Gene Therapy Deal, Novartis Cohen Testimony

February 27, 2019, 11:25 PM UTC

Hello and happy hump day, readers.

Let’s take a moment to talk about some things that don’t involve the words “Michael Cohen” (although, well, there’s also some relevant biopharma-Cohen crossover news, but more on that below).

One of the life science sector’s more intriguing quests is to try and replace the traditional biopsy. Why cut into a patient to remove a part of their body in what can be a complicated, painful process if the whole thing can just be done by a simple blood test?

On Wednesday, one of the major “liquid biopsy” players, Guardant Health, presented new data suggesting its technology is as effective as a traditional biopsy in one of the deadliest cancers around, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The blood test, via the firm’s Guardant360 platform, had the same level of accuracy in sussing out cancerous mutations in the disease as a standard biopsy, and was able to do so in about half the time.

“Given this [test] finds mutations at a similar rate to tissue-based testing, while ensuring patients receive guideline-complete testing with a faster turn-around time, it’s a compelling option to use liquid first ahead of tissue for molecular testing in newly diagnosed advanced NSCLC,” said the study’s senior author, Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, in a statement.

While Guardant’s technology is already available for physician order, the holy grail would be a full-on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval – which would be the first for a liquid biopsy company.

Read on for the day’s news.


Sarepta continues the string of biotech gene therapy deals. Rare disease drug maker Sarepta Therapeutics (the first company to win FDA approval for a Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug) has decided to snatch up its partner Myonexus in a $165 million deal. The M&A was spurred by promising early trial results for a gene therapy meant to treat limb-girdle muscular dystrophy; it comes on the heels of Roche's $4.8 billion bid for gene therapy specialist Spark Therapeutics earlier this week and Novartis' $8.7 billion AveXis buyout last year.


Novartis' Michael Cohen payments resurface at Senate hearing. In a development that Novartis executives probably aren't cherishing (but were likely expecting), the pharmaceutical giant's past relationship with former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen came up a number of times during Cohen's marathon testimony before a House committee on Wednesday. Cohen told House Oversight committee members that Novartis had paid him $1.2 million as a de facto lobbyist who could provide access to both President Trump and other government officials. Novartis has a very different explanation of its prior relationship with Cohen, claiming it was simply trying to gather information about the Trump administration's general philosophy to health care policy.


Health insurance investors aren't psyched about Medicare for All. House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a sweeping "Medicare for All" bill with 107 co-sponsors, underscoring the rapidly growing popularity of the idea among the Democratic caucus. Health insurance companies (and their investors) were not pleased. Shares of major insurers (and companies that have both insurer and pharmacy benefits components) fell anywhere from 3.5% to 5% in Wednesday trading, including CVS, UnitedHealth, Anthem, Humana, and others. (Bloomberg)


FDA Recalls More Blood Pressure Medication, by Brittany Shoot

How Huawei Is Battling U.S. Spying Allegations, by Aaron Pressman

Polio Used to Scare People Into Getting Vaccinated. We Need That Same Urgency With Measles Today, by Bruce Gellin

More Than 11,000 People Are Now Suing Bayer Over Weedkiller Cancer Risk, by David Meyer

Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health