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Hello! Hope you had a peaceful holiday. Back to biotech, we discuss the tough job market, delight in some exciting early developments in CAR-T and CRISPR, and see further validation for the blockbuster anti-inflammatory drug Dupixent.
The biotech job market is not in good shape
If you’re in the market for a job in biotech right now, good luck. The industry experienced a heady “sugar high” in 2021, when a strong candidate might field multiple offers at any given time. But the subsequent industry crash has made it difficult for both public and private companies to raise money. Hundreds of companies have downsized, merged, or simply gone out of business. And bioscience job postings have dropped from about 19,000 in February 2022 to 10,000 in October 2023.
Although compensation packages are still quite plush, some mid-career workers are accepting on-paper demotions to stay employed. And new graduates are hard-pressed to find jobs: “It’s hard to break into this because I don’t have industry experience,” one recent doctoral graduate told STAT. “They’re all facing a downturn in funding. Everybody is thinking, ‘We have to make every hire really count.’ So their expectations are just going sky high.”
Dupixent succeeds for COPD in second Phase 3
A Phase 3 trial showed that Dupixent helped tame COPD — results that could amplify the blockbuster inflammation drug’s market reach dramatically. The drug, developed by Sanofi and Regeneron, already has been approved for indications including asthma, atopic dermatitis, and esophagitis. If it’s approved for COPD, it would be the first biological drug to treat this condition.
This is the second large trial to demonstrate Dupixent’s efficacy in treating COPD. The new results show a 34% reduction in COPD exacerbations that require further medical care. It also improved lung function after 12 weeks and also after a year. The first trial saw COPD flare-ups cut by 30%. The companies plan to submit these data to the FDA by the end of the year.
CAR-T therapy shows efficacy in lupus, autoimmune disease
Medicines for autoimmune disease continue to grow more sophisticated, but some patients continue to fall through the cracks. A systematic review in The Lancet outlines how CAR-T therapies can target autoimmune disease, particularly in patients who don’t respond to monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan. Autoreactive B cells play a prominent role in diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Since CAR-T therapies have proven so effective in treating B-cell cancers, scientists have been exploring how to sic engineered T-cells at autoreactive B cells. This has actually triggered “a complete clinical and serological remission of refractory systemic lupus erythematosus and dermatomyositis.”
Algorithm unveiled CRISPR ‘treasure trove’
CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang has unveiled a new algorithm in Science that can sort through millions of genomes to find new types of potential gene editing tools. “We are just amazed at the diversity of CRISPR systems,” Zhang told Nature. “Doing this analysis kind of allows us to kill two birds with one stone: both study biology and also potentially find useful things.”
Thus far, scientists have found six forms of CRISPR, which can recognize, bind to, and cut DNA or RNA in different ways. Zhang and his coworkers developed an algorithm called FLSHclust, which analyzes genetic sequences available in public databases that house hundreds of thousands of genomes from bacteria and archaea. It found CRISPR-associated genes by seeking out similarities between genetic sequences, and clustering them together. They found about 130,000 genes associated with CRISPR, and 188 have never been seen before. They discovered an entirely novel CRISPR system that targets RNA, which is exceedingly rare in nature.
• The AI factor: Why cash still flows to European biotech startups, Forbes
• China gearing up to take on pharmaceutical giants, drive biotech boom: innovator, South China Morning Post
• Indian drug manufacturers benefit from Big Pharma interest beyond China, Reuters