Happy Monday, readers—I hope you had a wonderful weekend. This is Sy.
Some news from the land of CRISPR gene-editing to start off this week: The appropriately named CRISPR Therapeutics—a biotech that, it should be noted, was co-founded by Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of the pioneers of the genome-tweaking tech that’s at the center of major IP litigation that’s pitted scientific titans against one another—is partnering with San Diego-based ViaCyte in an effort to tackle type 1 diabetes. The initial deal is worth up to $25 million, including $15 million that CRISPR will pay ViaCyte upfront.
Type 1 diabetes is a different beast from the type 2 variety that often soaks up the public health media spotlight. The disorder tends to afflict the young, and it’s caused by a defect in the pancreas which leads to minimal or non-existent insulin production (type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is associated with insulin resistance and an eventual breakdown in its production—both conditions result in excess blood sugar levels).
ViaCyte has set out on an ambitious quest to treat type 1 diabetes by creating certain kinds of pancreatic cells out of stem cells. But there’s a fly in the ointment—these cells are of an “off-the-shelf” variety, meaning that they aren’t necessarily created to precisely match each individual patient’s cells. That can provoke attacks from the immune system that reject these foreign bodies as, well, foreign.
The hope is that CRISPR gene-editing could could essentially transform ViaCyte’s manufactured pancreatic cells to make them non-threatening to patients’ immune systems.
“We believe the combination of regenerative medicine and gene editing has the potential to offer durable, curative therapies to patients in many different diseases, including common chronic disorders like insulin-requiring diabetes,” said CRISPR Therapeutics CEO Samarth Kulkarni in a statement. “ViaCyte is a pioneer in the regenerative medicine field, and has built a compelling clinical program, robust manufacturing capabilities, and assembled a strong intellectual property position. Partnering with ViaCyte will allow us to accelerate our efforts in regenerative medicine, an area that we believe will provide a variety of longer-term opportunities for our company.”
Kulkarni’s comments on manufacturing and intellectual property are particularly telling. Since ViaCyte’s technology is of the off-the-shelf variety, producing it on a large scale could potentially be less expensive than, say, personalized immunotherapies that are created on a patient-by-patient basis. And, of course, every life sciences firm involved in the CRISPR space is well-versed in the struggles of a strung-out patent litigation process.
Read on for the day’s news.
The road blocks to universal telehealth. I sat down for a fascinating conversation with Dr. Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO of telehealth giant American Well, on the current and future state of telemedicine in America. We touched on where the industry is growing, where the promise lies—and the various factors that are still holding the sector back. I’ll report back with a more detailed explication of our chat. (Regular readers will remember Schoenberg’s talk at the most recent Fortune Brainstorm Health conference, where he touched on the value that medical records have for hackers and digital delinquents).
Teva triumphant in FDA migraine drug win. Teva Pharmaceuticals, which has seemingly been battered with unfortunate news for years now, notched a win late last week as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its migraine drug Ajovy. This was a crucial victory for the debt-dragged Teva since the treatment is key to its strategy for replacing falling revenues of its flagship Copaxone, a multiple sclerosis treatment. Rival Amgen had a migraine drug from in the same, new therapeutic space approved earlier this year. Teva shares were up 2.5% in Monday trading. (Fortune)
THE BIG PICTURE
Ever-changing science, aspirin edition. Science, much to the chagrin of the general public, is dynamic (it’s a quality that’s literally baked into the definition of science itself). The ever-evolving quality extended this week to a long-held public health truth: The health benefits of low-dose aspirin. New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested an association (ahem, correlation does not equal causation) between regular aspirin use and all-cause mortality, as well as harmful side effects such as increased bleeding. However, several public health experts were quick to point out that the studies primarily focused on older people—and that the preventive health benefits of aspirin, including fighting inflammation that may be associated with cancers and other health conditions, could still be realized by those who start a regimen earlier. (Fortune)
Weed Coke. Would you like your Coke with a side—or, uh, infusion—of weed? You may just be in luck! The beverage giant is reportedly considering a partnership with Aurora Cannabis to create marijuana-infused beverages. As with most industries trying to tip-toe their way into the cannabis sector, the theoretical focus would be on mixing CBD, a.k.a not the high-inducing THC, component of marijuana into drinks. While CBD now has FDA-validated medical effects, there would still be plenty of regulatory questions about such a product’s viability. (Fortune)
Scratch Raises $17 Million to Make Loan Payments Less Awful, by Jeff John Roberts
|Produced by Sy Mukherjee|