This is the web version of Brainstorm Health Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top health care news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.
Happy Friday, readers.
You may recall that Biogen stunned the biotech world last fall when it announced it would be reviving its left-for-dead experimental Alzheimer’s treatment aducanumab. The company wasn’t just bringing the treatment back to life, it plans on submitting to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory approval, hoping to lay claim to the first medicine ever approved to treat the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s (rather than just its symptoms).
That controversial decision was spurred by a new analysis of data from aducanumab trials (more on that here). And we’ll find out soon enough if the gamble will work. But in the meantime, Biogen is plowing forward in a risky therapeutic space many other companies have abandoned after decades of failure.
Biogen has now struck a massive gene therapy deal with Sangamo Therapeutics, sending the smaller firm’s share soaring as much as 30% in early Friday trading. The collaboration will involve a series of Sangamo’s preclinical experimental treatments in the central nervous disorder space, including two therapies that would use gene regulation in order to tackle Alzheimer’s (ST-501) and Parkinson’s disease (ST-502), respectively.
Biogen will pony up an eye-popping $350 million in upfront cash for the partnership, underscoring the scale of its commitment to CNS treatments. And, unlike aducanumab, which targets amyloid plaque in the brain (a plaque seen in patients with Alzheimer’s), these new assets will home in on other kinds of targets such as tau.
“Biogen will collaborate with Sangamo on a new gene regulation therapy approach, working at the DNA level, with the potential to treat challenging neurological diseases of global significance,” said Biogen R&D chief Alfred Sandrock in a statement.
Read on for the day’s news, and and have a wonderful weekend.
Can a computer detect emotions from your face? Nature has a fascinating report on an ongoing debate within the psychological community about whether or not A.I. algorithms can detect emotions in human faces. The debate centers on whether or not facial expressions in and of themselves are universal in expressing certain emotions. One study found that "Westerners and East Asians had similar concepts of how faces display pain, they had different ideas about expressions of pleasure." (Nature)
FDA pushes back decision on Zogenix epilepsy drug. Shares of Zogenix tumbled on Thursday (and into Friday) after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pushed back a decision on whether or not to approve the company's epilepsy drug Fintepla. The agency was originally supposed to reach a verdict on the drug by the end of March but is now extending the review period by three months. Zogenix executives reiterated confidence in the treatment's data in a statement, but investors are clearly spooked for now. Fintepla is meant to treat a rare epileptic disorder called Dravet syndrome. (BioPharma Dive)
Gilead may be teeing up an M&A for a cancer biotech. Let the rumor mill churn. Everyone loves to speculate about who Gilead will or won't buy (and the general buzz around the company has been growing given its coronavirus ambitions). The latest target of interest, according to a number of reports, is Forty Seven, an upstart biotech specializing in new form of cancer treatments. Bloomberg reports that Gilead has "approached" the company for either a partnership or straight up buyout.
THE BIG PICTURE
Five more countries report their first coronavirus cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday that coronavirus may spread across the globe as five more countries reported their first known cases. "The scenario of the coronavirus reaching multiple countries, if not all countries around the world, is something we have been looking at and warning against since quite a while," said the WHO's Christian Lindmeier during a press briefing. Nigeria, Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania are the five nations with new cases (although all appear to stem from Italy, where infections have spiked in recent weeks). (Reuters)
Worried about the stock market? Resist the urge to panic, by Ben Carlson
Bath & Body Works is getting a lift from the coronavirus crisis, by Phil Wahba
In A.I., what would Jesus do?, by Jeremy Kahn