Week of May 1, 2023

This week we look at how the world of digital health is facing an uncertain future when it comes to capital investment. We also examine how researchers have developed a “brain decoder” using neural network technology, gene therapy treatments that offer significant benefits but come with a steep cost, and why European pharmaceutical companies are indicating a potential increase in dealmaking. Finally, in the U.S., we highlight a bipartisan group of attorneys general that are calling for full and unrestricted coverage for Food and Drug Administration-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. 

Each week we feature five things affecting the life sciences industry. Here’s the latest. 

Venture capital is in for a correction in digital health according to ACME Capital’s general partner Aike Ho who predicted less capital available in the coming decade and a shrinking number of investors and VC firms. However, other investors and executives maintained an overall positive outlook on the future of health care VC, noting that opportunities are endless and the sector is primed for a “gold age” of innovation, particularly with the potential of artificial intelligence.  

Researchers have created a “brain decoder” that is able to interpret the meaning of what people are listening to by analyzing their brain scans. The team used a system that employs GPT-1, an early version of the neural network technology that powers language model ChatGPT. During a proof-of-concept experiment the tool was able to describe the gist of the stories that three participants were listening to just by studying their functional MRI scans.  

Since the discovery of DNA, scientists have made significant advances in understanding genetic diseases and developing treatments for them. However, gene therapy treatments are expensive, which is a cause for concern for researchers as they may not be accessible to those who need them. High prices may also discourage government funding, leading to a decline in talent in the field. The challenge for researchers and health economists is to find a funding model that can make gene therapies affordable. 

Big European pharma companies are indicating that they may be ready to increase dealmaking later this year, after a tepid first quarter for mergers and acquisitions. One Swiss drugmaker indicated they were considering partnering, licensing and bolt-on M&A opportunities. The first quarter of 2023 saw drug developers spend just $8.8 billion on acquisitions. 

A bipartisan group of 26 attorneys general from U.S. states and territories has called on Medicare to provide full and unrestricted coverage for FDA-approved antibody-based Alzheimer’s treatments, and to reverse a policy limiting coverage to patients in clinical trials. The attorneys general argue that the decision creates a barrier to care for older Americans and those living in rural and underserved areas. The letter comes as a decision on whether to grant full FDA approval for one Alzheimer’s drug is expected as early as July.

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