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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

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At last, drug prices influence physician usage patterns Association of Reference Pricing with Drug Selection and Spending (subscriber access); Nitroprusside and Isoproterenol Use after Major Price Increases (free access) Not that long ago, the share of mind US physicians devoted to the cost of the drugs they prescribe was essentially zilch. Thankfully, times have changed as demonstrated in two interesting papers that describe natural experiments. The first compared trends in prescribing patterns at a payer that instituted reference pricing in 2013 vs. one that did not (reference pricing means that for each drug class, the payer will limit… Read More

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Taking stock: two decades of progress in heart failure: Here comes a clever study using existing clinical trial data to assess progress in standard of care over time for heart failure. For each trial, the authors assessed the rate of sudden cardiac death during the early part of the study (excluding patients with ICDs), and it appears that between 1995 and 2014, it decreased by nearly half.  As always, in observational retrospective studies, one has to worry about systematic biases around the population that are included (i.e. are they really the same over time?), but there is a likely a… Read More

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A hammer finds new nails (which happen to be eyeballs) The insulin growth factor receptor 1 (IGF-1R) was once upon a time a popular cancer target pursued by multiple biopharmas each with their own humanized antibody, and each without much success. In 2013, River Vision licensed the Roche compound teprotumumab, to treat Graves’ ophthalmopathy, a condition in which hyperactivity of the thyroid gland causes (among many other issues) bulging eyeballs with esthetic, comfort, and sometimes severe visual implications for which treatment options are limited. Nobody quite knows why the ocular issues occur, but hyperactivity of fibroblasts which are cells that… Read More

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Calendaring care The length of our sidereal year is an accident – we happen to be circling a G2 star from which the habitable zone where free surface liquid water can exist lies at around 150,000,000 km; by Newton’s laws this in turn corresponds to an orbital period that is our year.  Even if it is not particularly strongly connected to the underlying human biology, a lot of healthcare cycles are aligned to the Earth Year for convenience but is it effective and efficient? Individuals with diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy which can cause blindness and for which… Read More

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Gene therapy for sickle cell disease Typical diseases targeted by gene therapy are those for which there is a defect that prevents the production of a functional protein needed for normal life; remediation is achieved by inserting functioning copies of the gene, and fortunately, it is usually the case that expression at a low level is sufficient to greatly improve outcomes. The situation is different in sickle cell where the defective hemoglobin is actually harmful, and where success of gene therapy requires not only production normal hemoglobin, but replacement of the defective hemoglobin. In an N-of-1 study, a French group… Read More

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A knock at the door of a monster franchise Adalimumab (Humira, Abbvie) is the best-selling drug on the planet with the bulk of sales coming from patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is therefore quite a coup for Lilly/Incyte to have shown in a double blind controlled study that baricitinib, an inhibitor of JAK (an important intracellular signaling molecule), performed better in relieving the symptoms of patients with RA than adalimumab. It was all the more surprising given that another JAK inhibitor, tofacitinib (Xeljanz, Pfizer, now also approved for RA) did not outperform adalimumab in a similarly designed… Read More

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An innovative modality to suppress PCSK9 Antisense technology relies on the concept that it is possible to interfere with the cellular genetic machinery in very specific ways by deploying short RNA sequences that are complementary to the message that one wants to suppress. The idea has been around for a while, but has only achieved limited success in very niche indications (see here for the two latest). This is what makes the publication of phase 1 trial of the antisense agent inclisiran (Alnylam and the Medicines Company) targeting the synthesis of PCSK9 so exciting: one subcutaneous injection appears to… Read More

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Successful use of CAR-T therapy in a solid tumor Chimeric Antigen Reception T-cells (CAR-T) are immune cells molecularly engineered to seek out and destroy cancer cells; the push to develop them into a scalable generally usable treatment is likely the most exciting challenge in cancer right now.  Successful CAR-T use has so far been generally confined to hematological tumors.  In a brief report, a group from City of Hope reports on the use of CAR-T in a patient who was dying from an advanced, aggressive form of brain cancer, which led to a regression of the tumors for several months. Read More

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“My name is T-Cell…, James T-Cell” Immune T-cells are licensed to kill other cells through a quick molecular kiss of death, and as such are potentially powerful allies in controlling a tumor. For obvious reasons this killing power is under strict regulatory control and in particular T-cells display PD-1 proteins on their surface, which when engaged by the ligand PD-L1 on another cell, protects that cell from being killed. Tumors often display high levels of PD-L1 so that disrupting the interaction between PD-L1 and PD-1 can enhance the effectiveness of immune killing of tumor cells. Amplifying results from last year… Read More