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Biopharma’s boldest VC firm gets into lobbying

Flagship Pioneering, the venture capital firm that bet on Moderna Therapeutics long before Covid-19, has hired one of the pharmaceutical industry’s favorite lobbying firms to advocate on their behalf in Washington, according to new federal disclosures.

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The move comes on the heels of venture capitalists’ broader push to influence the debate in Washington over high drug prices. But it’s rare for venture capital firms to hire their own lobbyists, rather than rely on coalitions and industry groups; Flagship’s major competitors haven’t brought on their own firms.

For more on Flagship’s move toward lobbying, check out my new story here. Want to know more about Flagship and its penchant for taking big bets? Check out my colleague Kate Sheridan’s deep-dive profile of the firm here.

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Pharma’s new favorite lawmaker: John Thune

It’s a relatively new Washington tradition: In recent years, CEOs at some of the nation’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies have picked one or two lawmakers to flood with donations from their own bank accounts. Last year it was moderate Democrats Rep. Scott Peters and Sen. Bob Menendez. The year before it was Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.

The first lawmaker to receive that treatment in 2022 is Sen. John Thune, the Senate Republican Whip who is widely seen as a potential successor to the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell. Thune received checks from several pharmaceutical executives in February, shortly after announcing his run for reelection, according to STAT’s analysis of campaign finance data.

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day gave Thune $5,800 on Feb 22. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla gave the same on Feb. 4. David Ricks, the CEO of Eli Lilly, gave Thune $2,900 on Feb. 14. Ramona Sequeira, president of Takeda’s Global Portfolio Division and the chair of the lobbying organization PhRMA, gave $1,500 on Feb. 8. And Kabir Nath, the CEO of Otsuka North America, also gave Thune $1,000 on Feb. 9.

Top execs from PhRMA have gotten in on the giving too. The group’s CEO Steve Ubl gave Thune $2,000 on Feb. 17. Four of the organization’s other top execs also gave the senator $1,000 that month. Political action committees for Merck, Teva, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson wrote checks to Thune in February, too.

All told, Thune raked in more than $35,000 from pharmaceutical companies in February.

Thune has been a little quieter than most on the issue of drug pricing reform. Like many Republicans, he publicly slammed Democrats’ signature drug pricing bill in 2019, for potentially “destroying the system that has produced so much access and innovation for American patients,” but he hasn’t worked on his own drug pricing legislation in recent years. Instead, his latest health care bills have focused on making sure Head Start programs don’t require masks, extending the FDA’s flexibility on who can make hand sanitizer, and extending eligibility for hospitals participating in the 340B drug discount program, which is maligned by drug makers.

Frustrated with the NIH’s efficiency? Read this story … and get even more frustrated

The National Institutes of Health quietly killed an expert group that Congress set up to ensure the agency is efficient and effective — and the NIH didn’t even tell the panel’s members it was doing so, my colleague Lev Facher writes in a new story for STAT.

As Lev writes, “it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of topics that the NIH could use advice on.” Not only has the organization been dogged with potential controversies over conflicts of interest and research ethics, but it’s been in the throes of a debate squarely within the remit of the panel: Improving the organization’s slow and cautious funding structure.

Check out Lev’s story here, which includes some serious, on-the-record shade from a member of the expert panel.

The federal prison system is seriously rationing Covid-19 therapeutics

Antiviral drugs meant to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 should have been a godsend in federal prisons, which have struggled to contain the virus within their walls. But new internal documents shared first with STAT reveal that the federal Bureau of Prisons, which oversees 112 facilities, has prescribed just a fraction of the antiviral drugs it was allocated by the federal government.

In fact, several federal prisons that experienced massive Covid-19 outbreaks did not prescribe a single dose of these antiviral drugs. The new documents already have prompted calls for investigations from top lawmakers in Washington.

For more, check out my story here.

An inside look at the White House’s Covid budget crunch

Rachel Cohrs, STAT’s sleuth on all things Covid-19 funding and my soon-to-be D.C. Diagnosis coauthor, has a new story you won’t want to miss. She obtained 300 pages of previously unreleased White House documents unpacking the financially precarious position facing the Covid-19 response going into this fall.

Rachel’s latest story details what you need to know about this new document tranche, here. STAT is also making the documents available publicly, too, if you want to do some sleuthing of your own.

STAT stories you may have missed

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Biogen, fresh off major decisions on CEO and Aduhelm, is staring down its next hurdles.

Race is often overlooked in key clinical trial data used to win new drug approvals in Europe

Congress moves toward reforming FDA accelerated approvals, but with pharma-friendly concessions.

“Lives could be at stake”: CDC’S Walensky warns of dire stakes surrounding abortion access.

J&J sues a behind-the-scenes company for exploiting its patient assistance program.

From burst bubble to medical marvel: How lipid nanoparticles became the future of gene therapy.