Biotech – The Cutting Edge: Life (and Pharma) find a way…

This week Merck does its best to grab the headlines after filing a lawsuit against Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Whilst Big Pharma has not been shy about grumbling on policy tweaks, the lawsuit (will there be more to follow?) highlights the ire it’s feeling about meddling with pricing. We also discuss the introduction of a new pilot scheme in the NHS for a weight loss drug to tackle obesity in the UK, how exercise trains you physically and mentally, and we also include some quirkier reads on virgin-births in reptiles and how vintage steroids have been found in Australia (the Ashes slowly turning our attention to these news feeds…).


News this week

Big Pharma vs US Gov? As the decision for the first 10 drugs to be subject to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) nears, Big Pharma has been more vocal than ever in its criticism. We discussed the potential impacts of the IRA in November last year, describing how although Big Pharma was grumbling, there was lots of water to go under the bridge before these policies affected actual sales of drugs (though M&A would be more directly affected). However, Merck has grabbed the headlines after filing the very first lawsuit against the IRA, stating it “violates the constitution in at least two obvious aspects”, and comments from Biogen’s CEO suggest it might not be far behind in filing a lawsuit. The FDA wasn’t far behind with a rebuttal though, with  commissioner Rob Califf asking for better evidence generation from Pharma and thinking “prices of drugs are too high". We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one...

UK tackles obesity. The UK Government has announced a two-year pilot scheme for the weight loss medication  Wegovy (semaglutide). The drug mimics the actions of a hormone that suppresses appetite and regulates insulin, and can lead to a weight loss of up to 15% in a year (when combined with diet and exercise). While it’s great to see the Government doing more to tackle obesity, we can’t help but think medication can’t always be the answer (see PRTC below). For example, a Wegovy nature study indicated that weight loss plateaued after c.60 weeks and another indicated that as soon as it’s stopped, an individual regains 2/3 of the lost weight within a year. One other issue is the demand for the drug, meaning it is in short supply, resulting in some Pharmacies and Clinics in the US resorting to selling knock-off versions (which the FDA has warned consumers to stay away from).

Train the brain. As you’re probably aware, training the brain is important and exercise can help with that. Studies have widely shown exercise to improve mood, academic performance, behaviour and even reduce the risk of cognitive decline (eg dementia and Parkinson’s). Various studies have attributed this to better blood flow to the brain, and an increase in signalling molecules such as GABA and glutamate. The company Akili (a PureTech founded entity) has also shown the clinical benefits of brain training, and just this week released “EndeavorOTC”  on the App store: a video game to treat ADHD.

Snappy births and signs of the earliest complex life (NB not the Aussie cricket team…). A crocodile has given birth without fertilisation, suggesting that ‘life finds a way’ (J. Hammond: Jurassic Park). You can also read about how vintage steroids, found in Australia, may point to signs of complex life over 1.6 billion years ago (perhaps the birth of ‘eukaryotes’: cells with a nucleus).