6 months af­ter ar­riv­ing at Sanofi R&D, John Reed gam­bles $125M on De­nali’s RIPK1 work

Sanofi’s new R&D chief, John Reed, is on the march. 

New­ly ar­rived from Roche, Reed is hand­ing over $125 mil­lion in cash to part­ner with De­nali $DNLI on a RIPK1 ap­proach to tamp­ing down in­flam­ma­tion. And in the deal — which in­cludes more than a bil­lion dol­lars in mile­stones — the French phar­ma gi­ant is grab­bing sys­temic in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases while the De­nali team con­tin­ues to lead the charge on the blood-brain bar­ri­er and neu­ro dis­eases.

Alex Schuth

De­nali dived in­to RIP1 a lit­tle more than 2 years ago, buy­ing out In­cro and bag­ging one of their top drugs — which ini­tial­ly came out of Har­vard — for the pipeline. That ap­proach to in­flam­ma­tion, pro­vid­ed they could get it in­to the brain prop­er­ly, has po­ten­tial in ALS, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and Alzheimer’s. And it’s pay­ing some quick div­i­dends af­ter a key play­er took care­ful no­tice of their work.

“John Reed was a cham­pi­on of this deal,” De­nali chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Alex Schuth tells me, cit­ing some of the team play­ers around Reed who helped close the deal.

Reed is com­mit­ting his re­search group to the RIP1 tar­gets out­side the brain. Sanofi will take over the de­vel­op­ment work of DNL758 for tar­gets such as rheuma­toid arthri­tis and pso­ri­a­sis while fund­ing the Phase Ib/II costs for DNL747 for ALS, MS and oth­er con­di­tions — oth­er than Alzheimer’s, where De­nali re­tains re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for costs. Sanofi then will cov­er 70% of the costs in the piv­otal neu­ro work.

The com­pa­nies plan to share prof­its and loss­es in the US and Chi­na on 747, while Sanofi will pay roy­al­ties on 747 from the rest of the world and on all 758 sales. Sanofi al­so gets rights to pre­clin­i­cal RIPK1 in­hibitor mol­e­cules.

This is one of the first new deals to be struck by John Reed since he made the leap to Sanofi 6 months ago, with Elias Zer­houni on the way out. A deeply re­spect­ed sci­en­tist, Reed made lit­tle pub­lic progress while he was run­ning the show at pRED based in Basel.

Sanofi, mean­while, has earned a poor rep­u­ta­tion for in-house in­no­va­tion. But it has a great rep for col­lab­o­ra­tions, with a high-pro­file al­liance with Re­gen­eron that was re­cent­ly down­grad­ed at the gi­ant phar­ma com­pa­ny.

Steve Krognes

De­nali has man­aged to en­joy con­sid­er­able cred­i­bil­i­ty while walk­ing a mine field of risk. The ex­ec­u­tive team out of Genen­tech has some of the best re­sumes in the field, and their tar­get­ed, ge­net­ics-based ap­proach to CNS has won sig­nif­i­cant back­ing as they built the over­all staff to 175, with a new HQ un­der con­struc­tion right next to their cur­rent site in South San Fran­cis­co’s Oys­ter Point.

Steve Krognes, the CFO at De­nali, is hap­py to talk about the staffing (grow­ing), the new HQ (ready for move-in in March) and the mon­ey re­serves (sig­nif­i­cant). De­nali struck an­oth­er ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tion with Take­da at the be­gin­ning of this year for Alzheimer’s and near that de­liv­ered $155 mil­lion in cash and an eq­ui­ty stake.

But he and Schuth are al­so a lit­tle low key about some of the timeta­bles and the ex­act chem­i­cal prop­er­ties that make these drugs best-in-class con­tenders.

We can find out more about that as da­ta are as­sem­bled.

They’re not alone in RIP1, by any means. Just a cou­ple of weeks ago Hal Bar­ron sin­gled out a mid-stage pro­gram at GSK, which he char­ac­ter­ized as a high-risk, high-re­ward drug that might need some work ahead of any piv­otal test.


Im­age: John Reed. 

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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No­var­tis is eye­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Med­Co buy­out as Jer­sey biotech nears NDA — re­ports

To get from Novartis’ US headquarters to the Medicines Company, you make a left out of a square concrete building on NJ-Route 10, follow it past the sun orange veranda of Jersey’s Hot Bagels and the inexplicable green Vermont cabin that houses the Whippany Railway Museum until you turn right and immediately arrive at a rectangular glass building. It should take you about 12 minutes.

Reports are out that Novartis may be making that trip. Amid a torrent of Phase III data burnishing MedCo’s chances at a blockbuster cholesterol drug,  Bloomberg News is reporting that Novartis is looking to acquire the Jersey-based biotech.

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UP­DAT­ED: In a land­mark first glimpse of hu­man da­ta from Ver­tex, CRISPR/Cas9 gene ther­a­py sig­nals ear­ly ben­e­fit

Preliminary data on two patients with blood disorders that have been administered with Vertex and partner CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-editing therapy suggest the technology is safe and effective, marking the first instance of the benefit of the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in humans suffering from disease.

Patients in these phase I/II studies give up peripheral blood from which hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are isolated. The cells are tinkered with using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and the edited cells — CTX001 — are infused back into the patient via a stem cell transplant. The objective of CTX001 is to fix the errant hemoglobin gene in patents with two blood disorders: beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, by unleashing the production of fetal hemoglobin.

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Badrul Chowdhury. FDA via Flickr

As­traZeneca los­es an­oth­er ex­ec­u­tive to biotech, as Badrul Chowd­hury moves to Savara

Another executive is migrating from the echelons of Big Pharma to the corridors of small biotech.

In April 2018, Badrul Chowdhury took his more than two decades of experience at the FDA to AstraZeneca, where he took on the role of senior vice president and chief physician-scientist for respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity late-stage development in biopharmaceuticals R&D.

After about a year and a half in this role, Chowdhury is moving to a small Texas biotech called Savara, where he will serve as chief medical officer.

Yiannis Kiachopoulos and Artur Saudabayev, co-founders of Causaly

Lon­don AI up­start, which counts No­var­tis as a cus­tomer, can teach your com­put­er to read

When Amazon developed a machine-learning tool to make its recruitment process more efficient — the man-made system absorbed the gender-bias of its human makers, and the project was aborted. In the field of biopharmaceuticals, the way researchers train their machine learning algorithms can skew the outcome of predictions. But before those predictions can be made, the engine must learn to read to make sense of explosive volume of knowledge out there.

Burt Adelman. Novo Ventures

Here's a $25M seed fund aimed at back­ing some brash new drug ideas out of the Broad

As a former academic and a seasoned drug developer, Burt Adelman knew when he was recruited as a senior advisor to Novo Ventures in 2017 that one of his key priorities needs to be introducing the fund to the network he was so deeply embedded in.

“I was thinking long and hard on how can I, as a Boston insider, help Novo really get inside the ecosystem of Boston biotech?” he recalled in an interview with Endpoints News.

Welling­ton lines up a $393M bankroll for its next round of pri­vate biotech bets — and they’re like­ly think­ing big

Wellington Management made some uncustomary waves at the beginning of the year when it threw its considerable weight against Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene buyout. But after Bristol-Myers’ biggest investor conceded that game to the influential proxy firms involved, they’re now going to end the year by rolling out a big new investment fund for a new stable of fledgling biotechs on the private side of the industry.

As uter­ine race with Ab­b­Vie heats up, My­ovant eyes FDA ap­proval with tri­al re­sults from prostate can­cer

Myovant has long had a secret weapon in its uterine rivalry with AbbVie: Men.

While the small Swiss biotech has jockeyed with the Illinois-based giant for a foothold in the endometriosis and uterine fibroid therapy market, the company has been developing the same lead compound, relugolix, for use in one of the most common cancers for the uterus-less: prostate cancer. Today, Myovant is out with positive topline results from its big Phase III trial on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist. They say they’ve reached every primary and secondary endpoint with p values less than .0001.