Monday, December 07, 2009

While You Were Eating Beignets...

It's the first weekend in December and that means it's time once again for the American Society of Hematology meeting. This year, reps from biotech and pharma travel to N'awlins to make news--or at least issue press releases--before the last year of the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close.

And for the foodies/cultural mavens in the industry, how can you blame them? Where else can you indulge in chicory coffee, beignets (essentially fried dough, but the French makes it sounds waaaay better), and gumbo, while also soaking up the music scene?

If you weren't at ASH, you were likely debating the merits of football's popularity contest, aka the Bowl Championship Series, or Tim Tebow's oscar-winning performance after the Gators lost to Alabama. Or maybe you were engaged in that annual ritual now closely tied with propping up the national economy...filling recycled, reusable bags with unnecessary plastic items manufactured in China.

Away from food, footballs and rituals: this week's dealmaking got off to a healthy start, with Celgene announcing it was buying private firm Gloucester Pharmaceuticals for $340 million in cash, plus up to $300 million in future US and international regulatory milestones. The deal further strengthens Celgene's cancer franchise--more specifically, its blood cancer franchise--as Gloucester's romidepsin (Istodax), a histone deacetylase inhibitor, was approved by FDA in November for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Not that Celgene's early Monday morning shopping should overshadow our hand-picked selection of the weekend events that happened while you were searching in vain for a $10 Zhu Zhu hamster... (Fuhgedabout it!)

  • New Yorker's Atul Gawande analyzes the current health care reform bill under review in the Senate. The fact that there is no grand master plan for curbing costs is actually a good thing, he argues. (If you haven't read Gawande's latest, you should. He's required reading in the West Wing.)

  • The WSJ reports Obama went to the Hill to urge the Dems to stay united as the Senate debated a proposed compromise option to the public plan. Meanwhile NYT's Prescriptions Health Blog outlines the advantages of a hybrid plan, the Federal Employees Health benefits Program.

  • There's lots for Sharfstein and Hamburg, the FDA's dynamic duo, to keep an eye on as they promote their safety first agenda. This weekend news surfaced that a Fresno, CA-based company recalled 22,723 ounds of ground beef potentially linked to salmonellosis; and then there was the NYT article on the safety of plasma products.

  • Also in the NYT this weekend, a story on the outsized pricing of cancer med Folotyn. The article is sure to spark renewed debate from payers about reimbursement for high priced meds that add just a few months of life. That's bad news for pharmas looking to cash-in on this specialty market.

  • ASH-related headlines: Cell Therapeutic's pixantrone increases median survival by 3.3 months in patients with relapsed/refractory NHL; Onyx/Proteolix presented updated Phase IIb data from studies of their next-generation proteosome inhibitor, carflizomib; privately-held Gloucester Pharmaceuticals presents additional data on newly approved ISTODAX in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

  • It wasn't just cancer at ASH; new data about next-generation blood thinners from Johnson & Johnson and Boehringer Ingelheim were reported at the meeting in conjunction with an article in the NEJM.

  • (Image by flickrer and[w] used with permission through a creative commons license.)

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