Happy New Year! On this fun episode of Industry Focus, we pick up some trivia about side effects, the drug naming system and why so many drug names are riddled with Zs and Xs and Hs, and a drug in phase 3 trials right now that has massive game-changing market potential. In this episode, Kristine Harjes and Todd Campbell play two truths and a lie.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Dec. 29, 2015, for release on Dec. 30, 2015.
Kristine Harjes: Two truths and a lie. This is Industry Focus.
Hey, everyone! Welcome to Industry Focus, healthcare edition. I'm your host, Kristine Harjes. I've got Todd Campbell, Motley Fool healthcare contributor, on Skype. It is Dec. 30, 2015, meaning it's the last episode of the year. Todd, do you have any fun New Year's Eve plans?
Todd Campbell: Oh, always try and do something that's fun. It'll be interesting, because we actually have snow for the very first time up in New Hampshire. As of right now, we're getting our first snowstorm, which is pretty amazing. I don't know if it snowed down there yet, Kristine.
Harjes: I'm actually a little bit jealous. We had a rainy holiday.
Campbell: Ugh, nothing worse.
Harjes: Well, to celebrate the end of the year, snowy or not, we figured we would throw out some excellent trivia for your New Years Eve parties. We want to play a game. The game is called "two truths and a lie." How it works is, one of us will state three statements or things, and two will be true, and one will be a lie. And the other person has to guess which is the lie.
Todd and I usually have a conversation before we record these shows, just to make sure we're on the same page, figure out what we're going to talk about. But with this one, we didn't do that, because we wanted to have the game be pretty genuine, and not know which one the truth is and which one the lie is. So we have no idea what the other one has planned. It should be fun.
So, I'll kick it off. My first category I had prepared for you is "weird side effects of medicines." Here's your three. Is it experiencing synesthesia, which is the experience of having one sense activated, such as smell, through the stimulation of another sense, like hearing; is it losing your fingerprint; or is it becoming a compulsive gambler?
Campbell: Great, you want me to pick which is true?
Harjes: Yeah. Of course, because they're side effects of medicines, it's not that you're going to have this happen; it's just well documented that this could happen.
Campbell: I'm going to say that No. 2 and 3 are pretty outlandish, which probably could mean that they're true, but I'll go with No. 1 being true and the other two being false.
Harjes: We only need one lie, two truths.
Campbell: Oh! One lie! So, I'll go with the second one as the lie.
Harjes: The fingerprint?
Harjes: It's actually the first one. It is totally possible that this is a side effect out there somewhere; I could not find any evidence of that being a side effect of any medicine. I found plenty of hallucinogenic illicit drugs, but as far as I know, that's not a real side effect of a medicine. However, losing your fingerprint can be caused by a cancer drug called Xeloda, and the compulsive gambling may be a side effect of Mirapex, which is for Parkinson's and restless leg syndrome.
Campbell: OK, great. That was fun.
Harjes: Yeah, who knew? So, speaking of tripping over drug names all the time, that's actually the second category that I had, so I'll dive right into that one. "Weird drug names." So all three of these will be branded drug names, so not the pre-approval scientific name a drug gets while it's still in development. So which one of these three do you think is made up? I feel like I should spell them, too, I'll say them and spell them. Gosh, this is going to be rough. Is it Celecoxib, Darmurixa, or Metaxalone? I feel like I'm in a spelling bee.
Campbell: I feel like I'm watching Transformers, or my kids have Power Rangers on in the background.
Harjes: It's like we're casting spells in Harry Potter.
Campbell: Yeah, like spells from Harry Potter. I'm going to say ... what was the third one again?
Campbell: We'll go with Metaxalone as the lie.
Harjes: So the one I made up was actually No. 2, Darmurixa. I should be able to say that one; I made it up.
Campbell: I think you're pronouncing it wrong!
Harjes: Yeah, really, I can say it however I want to say it. So the first one is an anti-inflammatory, that was Celecoxib. Then, Metaxalone is a muscle relaxant. Fun fact about these crazy drug names -- when I was doing my research for this, I literally just Googled, "What are some crazy drug names?" And I found articles explaining why drugs have crazy names. Todd, do you have any idea what the reasoning is behind that?
Campbell: The only thing I can think of is that it's to make sure that there's no risk of having an overlapping name or confusion.
Harjes: Yeah, that's totally what it comes from.
Harjes: Yeah. There was an arthritis drug called Celebrex, and an antidepressant called Celexa, and apparently people were getting confused. And the big problem is, if a pharmacist is reading a prescription, and doctors sometimes will just scribble it down, and if your pharmacist reads the wrong thing and they give you an antidepressant when you're supposed to have an arthritis medication, that's really not good. So the FDA has started to get a lot stricter about having these super-unique names, not just a little unique, but it needs to be markedly different than anything else out there. Apparently, they actually reject four out of 10 proposed drug names.
Campbell: Wow, that's interesting right there. It's going to be really hard on us as we do future shows, because eventually, these names are going to be 10 letters long.
Harjes: Yeah, more and more syllables. And as it is, we're seeing all these more Hs and Js and Xs in names. So what do you have for me?
Campbell: Well, I did mine a little bit differently. I'm going to give you three statements or things, and what I'd like you to do is tell me which one you think is the lie. So I'm going to start with the first one -- Bill Gates is investing millions of dollars to study a bacteria's immune system so we can use what we learn to better treat diseases in humans. So first off is Gates spending millions on bacteria research.
The second one is whether or not people who are traveling more than five time zones are going to have a new weapon in their arsenal to battle jet lag, ongoing phase 3 trials; they're currently reviewing a drug which could come to market as soon as 2018.
And the final one -- and one of these is a lie -- is that phrama bro Martin Shkreli is back in the news. Fresh after posting $5 million in bail, he went back on the Twittersphere, and he said he's ready to become CEO again of another company, as long as one requirement is met: that he can do all the live streaming and tweeting he wants.
Harjes: Those are amazing. OK, so, I think with the second one, you had so many details on there that I am inclined to believe that. And maybe this is just you being very smart and knowing that that's what makes it so convincing. I also believe the first one. So I'm going to go with the Shkreli one being a lie.
Campbell: You got it.
Harjes: Nice! Yes!
Campbell: I thought maybe that by tripping over the second one a little bit, you would be, "Oh, he's going on the fly, that one's not true!" But sure enough, you ferreted it out.
Harjes: Wow, you really were calculated!
Campbell: Yeah, I was trying to throw a curve ball to you, but you caught it.
Harjes: I have to say, the people around this office do a really good job of keeping me up to date on everything that guy does and says, just because it's such a wild story, and everybody knows I'm super into the healthcare space, so, "Oh my gosh, did you see the latest!" So I would have been surprised if that happened and somebody hadn't told me about it.
Campbell: Yeah, there were a lot of different things we could have done for this episode, but those were three I thought interesting because they all seemed so outlandish. The whole concept. Basically, to go through these, Bill Gates is an investor in a company called Editas, and Editas is researching what could very well be a fascinating story in 2017, about two years from now. What they're doing is, they've discovered that bacteria can fight off invaders or viruses by using a gene-editing technique where they take some of the virus's DNA and save it for a later date.
Then, if they see it again, they send out some RNA with some scissors, if you will, that go out and cut into that gene and keep it from replicating, so, keeping the virus from replicating. The theory is, if we can take that immune-system defense that bacteria use and apply it in humans, that maybe we can do everything from battle rare genetic disease to better target and destroy cancer. So that technology, which is known as CRISPR, is being worked on by a number of companies, including this one that Gates is an investor in. And I think it's a pretty crazy and potentially exciting piece of news.
Harjes: Yeah, that sounds awesome. Is it a publicly traded company?
Campbell: No, not yet. They're venture capital-funded. Gates came in, I think it was August, as part of a $120 million capital raise. I wouldn't be surprised, though. There's this company and two others, CRISPR is another, named after, of course, the technology. I wouldn't be surprised if any of these become public in the next year or two, because it really is a unique approach. So investors should bare this in mind, because it could be enticing, if you will, to investors as CAR-T was in 2015, which, of course, is a new way of attacking cancer as well.
Harjes: Very interesting. Tell me a little more about the jet-lag pill.
Campbell: Yeah! And this is an interesting one, too, because I thought, "Really? A drug for jet lag? There's really something you can do so you feel like you're on the right sleep schedule? That seems weird to me." But sure enough, there's a company out there called Vanda Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VNDA), and they have a drug that's on the market already that's being used to help people who are blind adjust their sleep cycles to the 24-hour sleep cycle. If you're blind to the point where you can't sense any light, you have a very hard time, obviously, figuring out when you should be sleeping and when you should be awake.
So they developed a drug called Hetlioz, and I probably pronounced that completely wrong, to help to target that. And one of the things they discovered is, "Hey, if we use this in people who have jet lag, it helps them more quickly get on the right time zone, too." So they've done a couple smaller studies, they're going to do one confirmatory study, a phase 3 study, that should begin soon. And they think they could have results from that study as early as 2017. If so, that means that people who are world travelers may have a new option, maybe as early as 2018!
Harjes: That's crazy. Label expansion for you. I have to wonder how exactly that works. How do they know just how jet-lagged you are? Because you don't want to over-compensate, you know?
Campbell: I know! Obviously, they're spending all sorts of time and energy researching it. They think this could be a huge product for them, because, according to the company, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, 100 million people per year are traveling more than five time zones. So, you figure, even if a small percentage of those people can benefit from this drug, then that could make a very strong seller. So from an investor's perspective, you might want to keep an eye on Vanda Pharmaceuticals. It's risky, but it's interesting.
Harjes: Yeah, I can't imagine that the drug's going to end up being terribly expensive, but with a population that big, OK, that could add up. That's so interesting.
Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. And then, of course, for the third one, I could have said anything. I even toyed with the idea that maybe he was going to start a new limited partnership and name it PharmaBro LP, which you may or may not have bought into as well.
Harjes: I think we're just giving him ideas here. I hope he's listening.
Campbell: It's an interesting story, as you mentioned. It's important to follow because there's a lot of different moving pieces to it. If any of our listeners aren't familiar with the story, Martin Shkreli is a CEO of a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals that got a lot of attention over the summer and into the fall for buying a drug called Daraprim that's used for parasitic infection, and then jacking up the price by 5,000%.
Harjes: Of course, he's since been booted.
Campbell: Yeah, he's since been booted. He's been arrested on other charges stemming from a prior role he had as CEO of Retrophin, in which there are all sorts of allegations going around about the use of company money for personal use, blah blah blah. He obviously says that those are false accusations, and of course, there will be a day in court. But he's very well known, obviously, for being an active tweeter and active live-streamer. So, no matter what he's doing, I'm sure that everybody in America will soon know.
Harjes: Yeah, he is entertaining, for sure.
Harjes: Well, nice work, Todd. Those were really fun.
Campbell: Yeah, that was a great episode. Hopefully we can do more of those for our listeners.
Harjes: If anybody wants to send two truths and a lie to Todd and me, I promise we won't cheat. You can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I'll remind you that people in the program could have interest in the stocks that we talked about. The Motley Fool could have formal recommendations for or against them. Don't buy or sell based solely on what you hear. So that's our last episode of the year. Happy New Year, everyone! We'll talk to you next year.