Anirvan Ghosh, Unity Biotechnology CEO

A month af­ter los­ing its lead pro­gram, Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy cuts 30% of staff in re­struc­tur­ing

Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy’s lead an­ti-ag­ing pro­gram faced the chop­ping block last month fol­low­ing a ma­jor Phase II flop. And now, 30% of its staff are next, as the com­pa­ny re­struc­tures to fo­cus on oph­thal­mol­o­gy and neu­rol­o­gy.

The staff re­duc­tion will leave San Fran­cis­co-based Uni­ty $UBX with 75 full-time em­ploy­ees by the end of the year. It’s yet an­oth­er blow to the celebri­ty-fund­ed biotech, which has been laser-fo­cused on clear­ing senes­cent cells to po­ten­tial­ly re­duce the symp­toms of ag­ing.

In the last 10 years, Uni­ty has at­tract­ed in­vestors like Jeff Be­zos, Pe­ter Thiel and Arch Ven­ture Part­ners’ Bob Nelsen — rak­ing in more than $200 mil­lion in fund­ing. But last month, it missed the mark in a 183-per­son Phase II study test­ing UBX0101 for os­teoarthri­tis of the knee. Pa­tients on the treat­ment arms showed vir­tu­al­ly no dif­fer­ence com­pared to pa­tients on the place­bo arm, and as a re­sult of the news, the biotech’s mar­ket val­ue plunged 60%.

De­spite the set­back, CEO Anir­van Ghosh re­mained con­fi­dent in Uni­ty’s pre­clin­i­cal pipeline. “Our con­fi­dence in senes­cent cells dri­ving dis­ease bi­ol­o­gy re­mains strong,” he told in­vestors last month. “Not on­ly be­cause of work we’ve done in­ter­nal­ly, but al­so be­cause of the wealth of da­ta from labs that con­tin­ue to in­di­cate both that senes­cent cells ac­cu­mu­late dur­ing dis­eases of ag­ing and that elim­i­nat­ing them with tar­get­ed mech­a­nisms can pro­vide ben­e­fit.”

The biotech is hop­ing to send its di­a­bet­ic mac­u­lar ede­ma can­di­date, UBX1325, in­to Phase I by the end of the year. It’s de­signed to tar­get Bcl-xL, thus elim­i­nat­ing senes­cent cells to po­ten­tial­ly treat age-re­lat­ed eye dis­eases. Plus, the biotech is keep­ing UBX1967 in its pock­et — a “mol­e­c­u­lar­ly dis­tinct back­up to UBX1325.”

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, Uni­ty ex­pects to dose the first pa­tients in a Phase I study of UBX1325 lat­er this year.

“Uni­ty is a pi­o­neer in the de­vel­op­ment of ther­a­peu­tics tar­get­ing senes­cent cells at the crux of many age-re­lat­ed dis­eases, and we will con­tin­ue to build on this sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion as we ad­vance our pipeline,” Ghosh said in a state­ment.

The com­pa­ny says the staff re­duc­tion will ex­tend its cash run­way through mid-2022, and it’s go­ing to keep push­ing its pipeline to­ward the clin­ic.

“Mov­ing for­ward we will have a lean­er and more ag­ile team, which is well-re­sourced to ad­vance our pipeline pro­grams to key mile­stones,” Ghosh added lat­er.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: #ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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#ES­MO20: Out to beat Tagris­so, J&J touts 100% ORR for EGFR bis­pe­cif­ic/TKI com­bo — fu­el­ing a quick leap to PhI­II

J&J’s one-two punch on EGFR-mutant non-small cell lung cancer has turned up some promising — although decidedly early — results, fueling the idea that there’s yet room to one up on third-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Twenty out of 20 advanced NSCLC patients had a response after taking a combination of an in-house TKI dubbed lazertinib and amivantamab, a bispecific antibody targeting both EGFR and cMET engineered on partner Genmab’s platform, J&J reported at ESMO. All were treatment-naïve, and none has seen their cancer progress at a median follow-up of seven months.

Clay Siegall (Life Science Washington via YouTube)

#ES­MO20: Seat­tle Ge­net­ics eyes 4th ap­proval with new da­ta in a crowd­ed field

Does Seattle Genetics have another approval on its hands?

The last 12 months, not so great for the world, has been great for Seattle Genetics. The company landed two separate FDA approvals, signed a $4.5 billion deal with Merck and watched antibody-drug conjugates — the technology they spent years developing to broad industry skepticism — emerge suddenly as one of the most popular approaches in oncology. And on Monday at ESMO, the company and their partners at Genmab unveiled the data behind the ADC it hopes will provide its next major FDA approval.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.