A can­cer vac­cine that might work? Mod­er­na posts 'promis­ing' ear­ly snap­shot for Mer­ck-part­nered pro­gram and raids Bris­tol My­ers for a new can­cer R&D chief

Re­mem­ber that per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cine Mod­er­na was de­vel­op­ing?

As the world awaits da­ta from its late-stage Covid-19 can­di­date, the mR­NA play­er is in­ter­rupt­ing its most in­ten­sive­ly watched pro­gram with an up­beat ear­ly snap­shot of da­ta from its mes­sen­ger RNA can­cer vac­cine mR­NA-4157. And the Mod­er­na team is us­ing the oc­ca­sion to in­tro­duce a new chief for their on­col­o­gy unit, raid­ed from Bris­tol My­ers Squibb’s can­cer group.

When com­bined with Mer­ck’s Keytru­da in the Phase I KEYNOTE-603 tri­al, re­searchers re­port, the vac­cine ap­pears some­what ef­fec­tive in shrink­ing tu­mors. Among 10 pa­tients with HPV-neg­a­tive head and neck squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma, the over­all re­sponse rate is 50%: 2 com­plete re­spons­es and 3 par­tial re­spons­es. And it is trans­lat­ing to con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit over the PD-1 in­hibitor alone:

Me­di­an pro­gres­sion free sur­vival (mPFS) is 9.8 months, which com­pares fa­vor­ably to the pub­lished ORR and mPFS of 14.6% and 2.0 months re­spec­tive­ly, for Keytru­da monother­a­py. In­clud­ing four pa­tients with sta­ble dis­ease, the Dis­ease Con­trol Rate (DCR) is 90% (9/10). Me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse has not been reached.

“The da­ta are pre­lim­i­nary and the sam­ple size is small, but it is promis­ing,” Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona pro­fes­sor Julie Bau­man, who’s pre­sent­ing the in­ter­im da­ta at The So­ci­ety for Im­munother­a­py of Can­cer’s An­nu­al Meet­ing, said in a state­ment. “A phase I tri­al is about safe­ty first and fore­most, and we now know this treat­ment is safe and tol­er­a­ble. But, we al­so have a strong sig­nal to point us to fur­ther study this in head and neck can­cer.”

Jef­feries an­a­lyst Michael Yee ob­served that the re­sults com­pare fa­vor­ably even with the Keytru­da/chemo com­bo, the stan­dard of care in first-line treat­ment, which yields an ORR of 36% and mPFS of 4.9 months.

“While 4/5 re­spon­ders achieved PR af­ter 2 dos­es of Keytru­da pri­or to mR­NA-4157, all 4 re­spons­es deep­ened af­ter mR­NA-4157 ad­min­is­tra­tion w/ 2 PRs con­vert­ing to CRs,” he wrote “Add’l, one pt pro­gressed on Keytru­da, but start­ed to re­spond af­ter mR­NA-4157.”

In the mi­crosatel­lite sta­ble col­orec­tal car­ci­no­ma group, though, no re­spons­es were ob­served out of 17 pa­tients.

With a clean tol­er­a­bil­i­ty so far, Mod­er­na now plans to ex­pand the HN­SCC co­hort to 40 pa­tients. For each one, the com­pa­ny tai­lor makes a vac­cine with mes­sen­ger RNA that en­codes up to 20 neoepi­topes that its al­go­rithms pre­dict would stir up the strongest im­mune re­sponse.

It will be do­ing so un­der the lead­er­ship of Praveen Aa­nur, who’s jump­ing from Bris­tol My­ers Squibb to be­come Mod­er­na’s ther­a­peu­tic area head for on­col­o­gy de­vel­op­ment. Aa­nur spent the last 7 years work­ing on Bris­tol My­ers’ im­muno-on­col­o­gy pipeline. He re­ceived an MBBS from Ban­ga­lore Uni­ver­si­ty, an MPH from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Al­aba­ma and an MBA from Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Busi­ness.

Can­cer vac­cines are gain­ing trac­tion among hefty bio­phar­ma play­ers again as new biotechs spring up fol­low­ing a se­ries of clin­i­cal dis­as­ters among the gen-1 play­ers. Re­gen­eron is al­lied with BioN­Tech — now a house­hold name thanks to its Pfiz­er-part­nered Covid-19 ef­fort — on a Phase II test­ing a 4-anti­gen can­di­date, while Roche re­cent­ly shelled out $200 mil­lion for a neoanti­gen pro­gram.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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