23andMe finds a buy­er for its IL-36 bis­pe­cif­ic in Almi­rall; Neu­ro­crine, Idor­sia re­vise epilep­sy drug deal

→ The first fruits of 23andMe’s ef­forts to gen­er­ate new drugs off the in­sights it gained from a mas­sive amount of ge­net­ic da­ta are tak­ing shape, and Almi­rall is sign­ing up to ripen one of them. The Span­ish der­ma­tol­ogy drug­mak­er has li­censed a bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body that blocks three cy­tokines in the IL-36 cy­tokine fam­i­ly, which are tied to skin con­di­tions such as pso­ri­a­sis and lu­pus, in ad­di­tion to oth­er in­flam­ma­to­ry ail­ments such as ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, and Crohn’s dis­ease.

“As a leader in med­ical der­ma­tol­ogy, we felt Almi­rall was the best com­pa­ny to take this pro­gram for­ward and ul­ti­mate­ly de­vel­op an ef­fec­tive ther­a­py for pa­tients,” Ken­neth Hillan, who suc­ceed­ed Genen­tech vet Richard Scheller as head of ther­a­peu­tics at 23andMe, said in a state­ment.

While it start­ed out as a di­rect-to-con­sumer test­ing ser­vice, 23andMe has moved deep­er in­to the ther­a­peu­tic space in re­cent years, most no­tably through a $300 mil­lion part­ner­ship with Glax­o­SmithK­line.

→ We now know the iden­ti­ty of Idor­sia’s mys­tery part­ner from last year. The Swiss biotech — spun out from J&J’s Acte­lion buy­out — had an­nounced that it pock­et­ed a $5 mil­lion pay­ment from an undis­closed par­ty to score a li­cens­ing op­tion on ACT-709478, a brain pen­e­trat­ing T-type cal­ci­um chan­nel block­er. Now we learn that Neu­ro­crine will pay $45 mil­lion if it ex­er­cis­es the op­tion and up to $365 mil­lion in mile­stones.

“We are ex­cit­ed to lever­age the sci­en­tif­ic ex­per­tise of Idor­sia in T-type cal­ci­um chan­nel in­hi­bi­tion to po­ten­tial­ly ad­vance a Phase 2 ready com­pound to help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from epilep­sy. In ad­di­tion to the treat­ment of epilep­sy, the mod­u­la­tion of the cal­ci­um chan­nel may be use­ful for the treat­ment of oth­er dis­or­ders such as es­sen­tial tremor and pain,” Kevin Gor­man, the CEO at Neu­ro­crine, said in a state­ment.

Phase­Bio has found a deep-pock­et­ed be­liev­er in its blood thin­ner re­ver­sal agent: SFJ Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which has of­fered up to $120 mil­lion to sup­port the clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of PB2452. First li­censed from As­traZeneca, the “break­through” drug is de­signed to can­cel the ef­fects of tica­grelor, an an­ti­co­ag­u­lant, in ur­gent or sur­gi­cal sit­u­a­tions. Backed by Black­stone Life Sci­ences and Abing­worth, SFJ will al­so take over the bulk of the clin­i­cal and reg­u­la­to­ry work out­side of the US. In ex­change, Phase­Bio will pay an­nu­al lump sums once (and if) they win ap­provals.

Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund and Dutch in­vestor PPF are lead­ing a $22 mil­lion Se­ries C round for Basel, Switzer­land-based NBE Ther­a­peu­tics to bankroll ear­ly clin­i­cal tri­als of its lead as­set. Rid­ing on re­newed en­thu­si­asm for an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates, NBE said their plat­form tech is both more pow­er­ful and safer than the ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions of ADC, be­ing im­mune-stim­u­la­to­ry and em­ploy­ing an an­thra­cy­cline pay­load. NBE-002 tar­gets ROR1 in triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer and lung can­cer, to be fol­lowed by oth­er sol­id can­cer types and lym­phomas.

→ While await­ing an FDA de­ci­sion on its sec­ond shot at an ap­proval, Aca­cia Phar­ma has in-li­censed a short-act­ing, re­versible in­tra­venous seda­tive/anes­thet­ic from Cos­mo Phar­ma. The €10 mil­lion up­front pay­ment will take the form of an eq­ui­ty sale, with an­oth­er €30 mil­lion due up­on US ap­proval of the drug, By­Fa­vo, and more com­mer­cial mile­stones. “Hav­ing a sec­ond prod­uct that shares the same call­ing points and at­trac­tive com­mer­cial mes­sage as Barhem­sys will make the in­vest­ment in our sales and mar­ket­ing teams more ef­fi­cient,” CEO Mike Bolin­der said in a state­ment.

→ Eye-fo­cused gene ther­a­py de­vel­op­er Eye­ven­sys has scored $30 mil­lion in Se­ries B fund­ing with the help of lead in­vestor Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund. Pon­tif­ax, Bpifrance, CapDe­cisif, In­serm Trans­fert, the Glob­al Health Sci­ences Fund and Pure­os Bioven­tures al­so joined to boost their R&D ef­forts, fea­tur­ing a lead Phase II-ready pro­gram for chron­ic non-in­fec­tious uveitis.

→ The cell ther­a­py ex­perts at Jasper Ther­a­peu­tics have brought in an ex­tra $14.1 mil­lion for their Se­ries A, adding Roche Ven­ture Fund to their ros­ter of mar­quee in­vestors. The new cash will help ex­pand the lead clin­i­cal pro­gram, a CD117-tar­get­ed an­ti­body con­ceived as an al­ter­na­tive con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men be­fore stem cell trans­plants.

→ Fol­low­ing the close of its $1 bil­lion-plus sec­ond fund, GHO Cap­i­tal Part­ners has ac­quired Bel­gian CD­MO Ar­de­na, which is fo­cused on ear­ly-stage drug de­vel­op­ment, from Men­tha Cap­i­tal.

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

Kathy High (file photo)

Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Kathy High has left Spark af­ter com­plet­ing $4.3B union with Roche

Kathy High dedicated the past seven years of her life shepherding experimental gene therapies she’s developed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the market as president and head of R&D at Spark Therapeutics. Now that the biotech startup is fully absorbed into Roche — with an FDA approval, a $4.3 billion buyout and a promising hemophilia program to boast — she’s ready to move on.

Roche confirmed her departure with Endpoints News and noted “she will take some well-deserved time off and then will begin a new chapter in a sabbatical at a university.”

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Deborah Dunsire

The fourth CGRP mi­graine drug is here. Time for Lund­beck to prove it's worth $2B

They may be late, but Lundbeck is now officially in the game for preventing migraine with CGRP drugs.

The FDA has OK’d eptinezumab, the prize in Lundbeck’s $2 billion acquisition of Alder. Like rival offerings from Amgen/Novartis, Eli Lilly and Teva, the antibody blocks the calcitonin gene-related peptide, which is believed to dilate blood vessels in the brain and cause pain.

It will now be sold as Vyepti. The company has yet to announce a price. Amgen and Novartis had set the wholesale acquisition cost of their pioneering Aimovig at $6,900 for a year’s supply before raising it slightly this year; Lilly and Teva had followed suit with Emgality and Ajovy.

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Tal Zaks (Moderna via YouTube)

For two decades, a new vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has been slow­ly ap­proach­ing prime time. Now, can it stop a pan­dem­ic?

Two months before the outbreak, Moderna CMO Tal Zaks traveled from Cambridge, MA to Washington DC to meet with Anthony Fauci and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health.

For two years, Moderna had worked closely with NIH researchers to build a new kind of vaccine for MERS, one of the deadliest new viruses to emerge in the 21st century. The program was one test for a new technology designed to be faster, cheaper and more precise than the ways vaccines had been made for over a century. They had gathered evidence the technology could work in principle, and Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a longtime advocate for better epidemic preparedness, wanted to see if it, along with a couple of other approaches, could work in a worst-case scenario: A pandemic.

“[We were] trying to find a test case for how to demonstrate if our technology could rapidly prepare,” Zaks told Endpoints News.

Zaks and Fauci, of course, wouldn’t have to wait to develop a new test. By year’s end, an outbreak in China would short circuit the need for one and throw them into 24/7 work on a real-world emergency. They also weren’t the only ones with new technology who saw a chance to help in a crisis.

An ocean away, Lidia Oostvogels was still on vacation and relaxing at her mother’s house in Belgium when her Facebook started changing. It was days after Christmas and on most people’s feeds, the news that China had reported a novel virus to the World Health Organization blurred into the stream of holiday sweaters and fir trees. But on Oostvogels’s feed, full of vaccine researchers and virus experts, speculation boiled: There was a virus in China, something contained to the country, but “exotic,” “weird,” and maybe having to do with animals. Maybe a coronavirus.

Lidia Oostvogels

“I was immediately thinking like, ‘Hey, this is something that if needed, we can play a role,'” Oostvogels told Endpoints.

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Tim Mayleben (file photo)

Es­pe­ri­on's goldilocks cho­les­terol fight­er wins FDA ap­proval — will its 'tra­di­tion­al' pric­ing ap­proach spur adop­tion?

It’s more effective than decades-old statins but not as good as the injectable PCSK9 — the goldilocks treatment for cholesterol-lowering, bempedoic acid, has secured FDA approval.

Its maker, Esperion Therapeutics, is betting that their pricing strategy — a planned list price of between $10 to $11 a day — will help it skirt the pushback the PCSK9 cholesterol fighters, Repatha and Praluent, got from payers for their high sticker prices.

The sky-high expectations for the pair of PCSK9 drugs that were first approved in 2015 quickly simmered — and despite a 60% price cut, coupled with data showing the therapies also significantly cut cardiovascular risk, sales have not really perked up.

Esperion is convinced that by virtue of being a cheaper oral therapy, bempedoic acid will hit that sweet spot in terms of adoption.

“We’re kind of like the old comfortable shoe,” Esperion’s chief commercial officer Mark Glickman remarked in an interview with Endpoints News ahead of the decision date. “It’s an oral product, once-daily and nontitratable — these are things that just resonate so true with patients and physicians and I think we’ve kind of forgotten about that.”

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James Collins, Broad Institute via Youtube

UP­DAT­ED: A space odyssey for new an­tibi­otics: MIT's ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach

Drug development is complex, expensive and comes with lousy odds of success — but in most cases, if you make it across the finish line brandishing a product with an edge (and play your cards right) it can be a lucrative endeavor.

As it stands, the antibiotic market is cursed — it harbors the stink of multiple bankruptcies, a dearth of innovation, and is consequently barely whetting the voracious appetites of big pharma or venture capitalists. Enter artificial intelligence — the biopharma industry’s cure-all for the pesky process of making a therapeutic, including data mining, drug discovery, optimal drug delivery, and addressable patient population.

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Gilead los­es two more patent chal­lenges on HIV pill, set­ting up court­room fight in Delaware

Gilead sustained two more losses in their efforts to rid themselves of an activist-backed patent lawsuit from the US government over a best-selling HIV pill.

Urged on by activists seeking to divert a portion of Gilead’s revenue to clinics and prevention programs, the Department of Health and Human Services made a claim to some of the patents for the best-selling HIV prevention drug, Truvada, also known as PrEP. Gilead responded by arguing in court that HHS’s patents were invalid.

Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Gilead was likely to lose the last two of those challenges as well. The USPTO ruled against Gilead on the first two patents earlier this month.

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Christos Kyratsous (via LinkedIn)

He built a MERS treat­ment in 6 months and then the best Ebo­la drug. Now Chris­tos Kyrat­sous turns his sights on Covid-19

TARRYTOWN, NY — In 2015, as the Ebola epidemic raged through swaths of West Africa, Kristen Pascal’s roommates sat her down on their couch and staged an intervention.

“Are you sure this is what you want to be doing with your life?” she recalls them asking her.

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Pascal, a research associate for Regeneron, had been coming home at 2 am and leaving at 6 am. At one point, she didn’t see her roommate for a week. For months, that was life in Christos Kyratsous’ lab as the pair led a company-wide race to develop the first drug that could effectively treat Ebola before the outbreak ended. For Pascal, that was worth it.

“I’m ok, I don’t have Ebola,” Pascal told them. “I see that death toll rising and I can’t not do something about it.”

Last August, Regeneron learned they had succeeded: In a large trial across West Africa, their drug, REGN-EB3, was vastly more effective than the standard treatments. It was surprise news for the company, coming just 10 months into a trial they thought would take several years and a major victory in the global fight against a deadly virus that killed over 2,000 in 2019 and can carry a mortality rate of up to 90%.

For Kyratsous and Pascal, though, it brought only fleeting reprieve. Just four months after the NIH informed them REGN-EB3 worked, Kyratsous was back in his office reading the New York Times for updates on a new outbreak on another continent, and wondering alongside Pascal and senior management whether it was time to pull the trigger again.

In late January, as the death toll swelled and the first confirmed cases outside China broke double digits, they made a decision. Soon they were back on the phone with the multiple government agencies and their coronavirus partners at the University of Maryland’s Level 3 bio lab. The question was simple: Can Kyratsous and his team use a process honed over two previous outbreaks, and create a treatment before the newest epidemic ends? Or worse, if, as world health experts fear, it doesn’t vanish but becomes a recurrent virus like the flu?

“Christos likes things immediately,” Matt Frieman, Regeneron’s coronavirus collaborator at the University of Maryland, told Endpoints. “That’s what makes us good collaborators: We push each other to develop things faster and faster.”

Kristen Pascal (Regeneron)

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The first time Regeneron tried to respond to a global outbreak, it was something of a systems test, Kyratsous explains from his office at Regeneron’s Tarrytown headquarters. Kyratsous, newly promoted, has crammed it with photos of his family, sketches of viral vectors and a shark he drew for his 3-year-old son. He speaks rapidly – an idiosyncrasy his press person says has only been aggravated this afternoon by the contents of his “Regeneron Infectious Diseases”-minted espresso glass – and he gesticulates with similar fluidity, tumbling through antibodies, MERS, the novel coronavirus, Ebola-infected monkeys.

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Bank­rupt an­tibi­otics mak­er Ar­a­digm turns to old part­ner/in­vestor for fi­nal $3M fire sale

Grifols once paid Aradigm $26 million for a stake in its inhaled antibiotics. But with Aradigm now in bankruptcy, the Spanish drugmaker is dishing out a final $3.2 million to buy it all.

The fire sale — which comes one year after Aradigm filed for Chapter 11 following a regulatory trifecta for disaster — will see Grifols obtain assets and IP to Apulmiq (formerly Pulmaquin and Linhaliq in Europe), Lipoquin and free ciprofloxacin. In addition to waiving its claims in the bankruptcy case, Grifols also agreed to milestone payments up to $3 million more upon any regulatory approvals.