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Brainstorm Health: E. Coli Outbreak, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Treating Cancer With Light

Happy Friday, readers!

Light: It’s a particle. It’s a wave. Could it also be a cancer treatment?

Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani sure thinks so. The serial entrepreneur entered the world of biotech following a devastating pancreatic cancer diagnosis for his father back in 2012. The tragedy spurred him to seek unique solutions to the cancer scourge—including a highly unusual approach called “photoimmunotherapy.”

“One of my friends called me, who was also a friend of my father’s… and said, by the way, my cousin is doing this new project, trying to cure cancer with light,” Mikitani explained during a one-on-one interview at our Fortune Brainstorm Health conference on Wednesday. “I was like, this must be a joke. But I was desperate.”

Mikitani’s father was eventually taken by the illness. But that didn’t stop him from evangelizing this form of cancer therapy, which involves infusing patients with an “antibody-drug conjugate” (i.e., a pairing of an antibody that makes its way to tumors and a drug that can attack said tumors), and then activating the tumor-killing process with the use of near-infrared light.

Rakuten Aspyrion already has several treatments using this photoimmunotherapy platform in both early- and late-stage clinical trials. “I was ignorant enough to bet on this one,” he says of his unconventional approach.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee


The money in gene editing. Gene editing has arrived and investors are pouring in the big money, Silicon Valley investor Beth Seidenberg of Westlake Village BioPartners (and 14 year Kleiner Perkins vet) said during a Wednesday panel at the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference. “You read a lot about gene editing and CRISPR-Cas9 as a tool to knock-in or knock-out specific genes,” she said. “There’s a big question as to when is that ready for humans. I’m here to tell you it’s already in humans.” Perkins’ firm has invested in a company called Tmunity that has, according to her, edited out several cancer-related genes and is now in clinical trials. (Fortune)


Sanofi preps for more layoffs. French drug giant Sanofi has long been struggling with the decline of its flagship diabetes portfolio in the face of growing competition. The pain isn’t quite over, with the company plotting even more layoffs in its diabetes and primary care segments in the U.S. That brings Sanofi job cuts since 2016 well into the thousands. (FiercePharma)


E. coli outbreak hits 5 states. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is investigating an E. coli outbreak that’s affected at least five states (Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia). It’s unclear where the outbreak is stemming from, though at least 72 people have been sickened thus far. (Reuters)

Memorial Sloan Kettering faces conflict of interest allegations. The world renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is grappling with a conflict-of-interest scandal that’s been reported by the New York Times and ProPublica. On Thursday, an outside review supported those publications’ findings, concluding that MSK executives had defied their own internal policies and in some cases had personal stakes in health care companies the provider did business with. MSK has been working to overhaul its policies in response to the report, including through more thorough transparency and disclosure rules. (New York Times)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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