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RNA drugs coming of age Hereditary Transthyretin Amyloidosis (ATTR) is a genetic disease in which one of the alleles of Transthyretin (TTR), a protein produced by the liver and with a role in thyroid hormone metabolism, is mutated resulting in amyloid fiber deposits mainly in nerve and cardiac tissues. Patisiran (Alnylam) and inotersen (Ionis) are both oligonucleotides designed to knock down translation of TTR mRNA, the first through the silencing mechanism, the second through an antisense effect.  Phase 3 placebo-controlled studies published back-to-back in the journal show clear efficacy for both in reducing progression of neuropathy (and sometime improving it). Read More

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It’s hard to quit (and E-cigs don’t help) A large trial (6000 participants) comparing free cessation support, e-cigarettes, and a $600 cash incentive for sustained abstinence shows that none of these approaches are particularly effective with 1-3% overall success rates depending on the arm.  Prevention is where it’s at. A Pragmatic Trial of E-Cigarettes, Incentives, and Drugs for Smoking Cessation (free access)   NPs and PAs numbers are growing fast A look back at the last 15 years and forward to the next 15 shows that the physician workforce is growing at about ~1% per year while mid-level… Read More

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One more on the chin for Alzheimer’s A report of a large phase 3 study of the highly potent oral BACE inhibitor verubecestat (Merck) with yet again a lack of therapeutic effect, despite a dramatic reduction of the cerebrospinal fluid content of beta amyloid in various forms.  With a string of prior failures, this may be the near final blow for amyloid as a treatment target for Alzheimer’s disease (and Biogen’s adacanumab would be the end of the line if it also comes up tails). But note that the study population, although described as “mild-to-moderate”, clearly has sustained substantial brain… Read More

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Are we nearing an asymptote with implantable cardiac pumps? Severe heart failure is common, and spare hearts for transplant are rare, which has led to the development of implantable mechanical alternatives. In the last few decades, progress has been immense, and in the latest installment of a 3rd (4th?) generation pump, outcomes have reached a level where survival of several years is the rule. Still, at every iteration incremental improvement is less, and performance remains well behind what happens with transplant in terms of complications such as infection, stroke, or bleeding. One is left with the impression that perhaps, there… Read More

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GWAS, Regeneron and Geisinger, and liver disease Genome wide association studies (GWAS) look at broad populations for gene variants associated with a particular phenotype. Often, like in Type II diabetes, one finds hundreds of genes correlated with disease, and that’s obviously not very helpful. In lucky cases there are only a few variants, and that gives clues on potential underlying mechanisms of disease. But for the very lucky, there is a jackpot which is finding a variant that is actually protective against the disease – this is what happened with PSCK9.  It’s as good as one can imagine in defining… Read More

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A-fib in heart failure – time to be aggressive Over the last 15 years, there has been a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of catheter ablation to treat atrial fibrillation (a-fib), a condition for which the standard of care has been anti-arrhythmic medications. A-fib commonly coexists with heart failure but until now it has not been clear whether medication or catheter ablation would be the preferred treatment – we now have the answer, at least for patients with a substantially reduced ejection fraction. In a randomized trial of ~350 patients, the medication arm’s death rate was about 25%… Read More

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Playing chess against cancer Tumors are not intelligent, but, because they have escaped mutational control, they constantly probe for mutations that will allow them to escape chemotherapeutic suppression. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a frequent driver of malignancy in the lung and as such, a target for EGFR inhibitors such as erlotinib (Tarceva, Roche) or gefitinib (Iressa, Astra Zeneca); unfortunately, tumors initially responsive to these agents quickly develop mutations which make them resistant. Osimertinib (Tagrisso, Astra Zeneca) was designed to overcome the most common resistance mutations and has been approved as rescue therapy for cancers that progress under… Read More

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Successes in gene therapy for hemophilia B and A Hemophilia A and B are X-linked genetic diseases which prevents the formation of functional coagulant factors VII and IX respectively and cause a propensity to bleeding in about 20,000 people in just the US. The standard of care of intravenous administration of recombinant factors is effective but also burdensome, expensive, and does not fully prevent the disabling sequellae of the disease caused by repeated bleeding in the joints. A possible cure is to deliver a functional copy of the defective gene piggy-backed on a viral vector. The proof of concept for… Read More

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Two new therapies against a horrible congenital disease – but trouble ahead on pricing… Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease that declares itself at a few months of age, and typically leads to death before the second birthday. Two studies for two different therapies are reported in the Journal. First, the final results for a phase 3 placebo-controlled trial studying nusinersen (Spinraza, Sarepta, approved by FDA Dec 2016) therapy which involves monthly injections into the infant’s spine of an RNA-based drug. These show a clear beneficial effect over placebo (good enough for FDA approval), but still a high… Read More

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Between the very common and the very rare – An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for October 2017   Another tool for prevention in cardiovascular disease Taking aspirin daily has been standard of care for cardiovascular disease for decades, but attempts to demonstrate the additive usefulness of other agents to prevent clot formation have not been successful. Now things have changed: in a large study of patients with established cardiovascular disease, those who took rivaroxaban (Xarelto, Bayer) daily on top of aspirin did markedly better than with aspirin alone, although with increased risk of bleeding (mostly gastrointestinal, but very rarely… Read More