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.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

Covid-19 roundup: Vac­cines will need to beat place­bo by 50% to qual­i­fy for FDA OK; UK tri­al drops Kale­tra

The FDA will set the bar for approving a Covid-19 vaccine at 50% efficacy, the Wall Street Journal reported, meaning any successful candidate will have to reduce the risk of coronavirus disease by at least half compared to placebo.

That requirement is part of guidance that the agency is set to release later today, laying out detailed criteria for vaccine developers — some of whom are eyeing an OK by the end of the year, in line with expectations at Operation Warp Speed.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.