A dis­rup­tive bil­lion­aire with a yen for in­no­va­tion herds top re­searchers in­to a neoanti­gen can­cer coali­tion

Sean Park­er

One of the hottest fields in can­cer re­search that’s been breed­ing a slew of star­tups now has its own col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort un­der­way to help in­ves­ti­ga­tors march for­ward at a faster and more cer­tain pace.

The field is neoanti­gens, and the col­lab­o­ra­tive is the lat­est brain­child of The Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py and its part­ners at the Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute. Dubbed TES­LA, for Tu­mor neoanti­gEn Se­Lec­tion Al­liance (a twist on acronyms), the coali­tion will bring to­geth­er aca­d­e­m­ic and in­dus­try re­searchers who will use their own, in­di­vid­ual al­go­rithms to spot the unique neoanti­gens that ap­pear on in­di­vid­ual pa­tients’ can­cer cells in or­der to de­vel­op a per­son­al­ized cell ther­a­py specif­i­cal­ly for that in­di­vid­ual.

They’ll then run the tests need­ed to see which al­go­rithms are most like­ly to be right, spot­ting the most anti­gens most like­ly to at­tract a T cell at­tack. And they can hone their skills and their al­go­rithms in the process in a pre-com­pet­i­tive al­liance.

The col­lab­o­ra­tive group will mar­ry some of the top re­search cen­ters, like the Broad and Dana-Far­ber, with a who’s who in neoanti­gen biotechs, in­clud­ing Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, Neon Ther­a­peu­tics and BioN­Tech. And the open sci­ence zealots at Sage Bionet­works will han­dle the bioin­for­mat­ics and da­ta analy­sis.

“Bring­ing to­geth­er the world’s best neoanti­gen re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions to ac­cel­er­ate the dis­cov­ery of per­son­al­ized can­cer im­munother­a­pies is ex­act­ly the type of bold re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion that I en­vi­sioned when launch­ing the Park­er In­sti­tute,” said Face­Book mogul Sean Park­er, who’s been mak­ing waves in can­cer re­search by prod­ding re­searchers to pool their work while spurring new projects in gene edit­ing and more. “This al­liance will not on­ly lever­age the im­mense tal­ents of each of the re­searchers but will al­so har­ness the pow­er of bioin­for­mat­ics, which I be­lieve will be crit­i­cal to dri­ving break­throughs.”

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Af­ter 4 years of furor, the FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. And this time they plan to squash it

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition.

Patrik Jonsson, the president of Lilly Bio-Medicines

Who knew? Der­mi­ra’s board kept watch as its stock price tracked Eli Lil­ly’s se­cret bid­ding on a $1.1B buy­out

In just 8 days, from December 6 to December 14, the stock jumped from $7.88 to $12.70 — just under the initial $13 bid. There was no hard news about the company that would explain a rise like that tracking closely to the bid offer, raising the obvious question of whether insider info has leaked out to traders.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron of­fers thumbs up on a PhII suc­cess for would-be block­buster drug — and shares rock­et up

There’s no public data yet, but Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

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Civi­ca and Blue Cross Blue Shield launch new ven­ture to low­er gener­ic prices

Five years after Martin Shkreli put a smug face to the volatile prices companies can charge even for generic drugs, payers and governments are coming up with outside-the-box solutions.

The latest fix is a new venture from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 18 of its members and Civica, the generics company founded in 2018 by hospitals fed up with high prices for drugs that had long-since lost patent protection. While Civica focused on drugs that hospitals purchased, the new company will aim to lower prices on drugs that, like Shkreli’s Daraprim, are purchased by individuals.

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Merck Invests in State-Of-The-Art Biotech Development Facility in Switzerland

Mer­ck KGaA match­es lofty R&D goals with €250M in­vest­ment in­to a new clin­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Switzer­land

As Merck KGaA strives to prove itself as a capable biopharma R&D player, it has begun construction on a €250 million facility dedicated to developing and manufacturing drugs for use in clinical trials.

The German drugmaker chose a location at Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, where it already has a commercial manufacturing site, in order to “bridge together research and manufacturing.”

“This investment in the Merck Biotech Development Center reflects our commitment to speed up the availability of new medicines for patients in need, and confirms the importance of Switzerland as our prime hub for the manufacturing of biotech medicines,” CEO Stefan Oschmann said at the groundbreaking ceremony, according to a statement.

Breast can­cer ap­proval in tow, As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi armed an­ti­body scores in key gas­tric can­cer study

AstraZeneca kicked off Monday with a flurry of good news. Apart from unveiling positive results on its stroke trial testing its clot-fighter Brilinta, and welcoming its experimental IL-23 inhibitor brazikumab back from Allergan — the British drugmaker also disclosed some upbeat gastric cancer data on its HER2-positive oncology therapy it is collaborating on with Daiichi Sankyo.

Buoyed by the performance of its oncology drugs, last March AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot bet big to partner with Daiichi on the cancer drug, with $1.35 billion upfront in a deal worth up to roughly $7 billion. Roughly 8 months later, as 2019 drew to a close, the FDA swiftly approved the drug — trastuzumab deruxtecan — for use in breast cancer, months ahead of the expected decision date.

Sor­ren­to shrugs off an anony­mous pri­vate eq­ui­ty group’s $1B of­fer to buy the com­pa­ny

San Diego-based Sorrento Therapeutics isn’t going the M&A route — at least not today.

The biotech caused quite a stir when it put out word a few weeks ago that an unidentified private equity group was bidding a billion dollars-plus for the company. The news drove a quick spike in the company’s share price as investors hooked up for the ride — that didn’t happen.

The update sparked a 5% drop in the share price $SRNE ahead of the bell. It’s now trading just above $4, without any evidence that the $7 price looked like it was firm.