Company news

July 21, 2014

Assembly Pharmaceuticals Inc., which had offices in Indiana, has merged with New York-based Ventrus Biosciences, a publicly traded drug development firm, to create Assembly Biosciences. The new company trades on the NASDAQ stock market under the ticker symbol ASMB. Assembly has been developing antiviral drugs focused on hepatitis B based on the scientific research of Adam Zlotnick, a professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at the Indiana University Bloomington campus. Zlotnick co-founded Assembly in 2012 with IU chemist Richard DiMarchi; IU biochemist William Turner; Dr. Uri Lopatin, an infection disease researcher based in San Francisco; and Indianapolis entrepreneur Derek Small. Small will be chief operating officer of Assembly Biosciences.

Eli Lilly and Co. signed a $45 million drug-development deal with United Kingdom-based biotech company Immunocore Ltd., according to the Wall Street Journal. Immunocore is trying to develop injectable cancer treatments that would direct the immune system’s T cells to get inside cancer cells and kill them. Immunocore will receive $15 million from Lilly upfront for each of three drug programs that have not yet entered human testing. If Lilly decides to take the treatments into the next stage of development, Immunocore can either receive a fee of $10 million to co-invest and develop the drugs or let Lilly develop the drugs while still retaining a right to future royalties if the drugs hit the market. Last year, Immunocore signed partnership deals with four other drug companies: Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Adaptimmune. Immunocore and Adaptimmune were previously one company called Avidex, formed based on patents licensed from the University of Oxford.

Indiana will be one of up to 20 new states in which Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group will compete on the Obamacare exchanges later this year. The health insurance giant sold on just four Obamacare exchanges for 2014, but will greatly expand its activity selling policies for 2015, according to the Associated Press. In Indiana, UnitedHealth has told the Indiana Department of Insurance it expects to sign up about 5,000 customers via plans sold under the All Savers brand. UnitedHealth representatives have told Indiana health insurance brokers that the company will make plans available for 2015, even though the specific states in which UnitedHealth will sell on the Obamacare exchanges has not been publicly released by the company. The exchanges, which are online marketplaces for health insurance, are the only place consumers can access Obamacare’s generous tax credits to reduce the cost of health coverage. UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley told Wall Street analysts on July 17 that the exchanges will become a more established part of future health care benefits, and UnitedHealth doesn’t want to enter those markets too late.

This isn’t what St. Vincent Health wanted. The Indianapolis-based hospital system’s clerical error of May 5, which sent 63,325 letters about patients' upcoming appointments to the wrong people, is now being cited by the information technology world as an example of the surge in data breaches. Trade publication PC World referred to the data breach at the St. Vincent Breast Health Center in an article headlined, “The 5 biggest data breaches of 2014 (so far)” (although the St. Vincent breach, in sheer number of people affected, wasn’t actually one of the five largest breaches). Also, SC Magazine, a trade publication for IT security professionals,  flagged the St. Vincent breach and even posted the letter the hospital system sent to its patients. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there have been 21 percent more data breaches publicly reported in the United States so far this year, compared with the same period in 2013.