A new av­enue for di­et pill mak­ers? UC San Diego re­searchers un­cov­er root of lep­tin re­sis­tance

Let’s be hon­est, the mar­ket for weight loss drugs has most­ly been bust. While the in­dus­try has moved on from the fen-phen fi­as­co of decades past, new­er di­et pills like Belviq and Qsymia have still failed to de­liv­er big sales. In the back­ground, how­ev­er, sci­en­tists con­tin­ue to un­pack the com­pli­cat­ed in­ter­nal mech­a­nisms that lead to obe­si­ty. And a team of re­searchers in San Diego say they’ve dis­cov­ered some­thing that might give drug­mak­ers re­newed hope.

The news comes from a col­lec­tion of re­searchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego (UCSD) who just pub­lished their find­ings in Sci­ence Trans­la­tion­al Med­i­cine. In short, they say they’ve un­cov­ered a mol­e­c­u­lar mech­a­nism that caus­es lep­tin re­sis­tance, a well-known phe­nom­e­non con­nect­ed to obe­si­ty. In mice stud­ies, they found a high-fat di­et pro­duced an en­zyme named MMP-2. This en­zyme goes around “clip­ping” the hor­mone re­cep­tors for lep­tin on the sur­face of neu­ronal cells. If the re­cep­tor is clipped, then lep­tin nev­er binds to neu­ronal cells in the hy­po­thal­a­mus — mean­ing your brain nev­er gets the sig­nal that your bel­ly is full and you should stop eat­ing.

Cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion


“We opened a new field of study for meta­bol­ic dis­ease,” said Rafi Ma­zor, a re­search sci­en­tist at the UCSD and the pa­per’s first au­thor. “We need to ask what oth­er path­ways, in ad­di­tion to lep­tin and its re­cep­tors, un­der­go a sim­i­lar de­struc­tive process and what the con­se­quences might be.”

Rafi Ma­zor

Ma­zor is part of a team that in­cludes oth­er UCSD re­searchers, the Salk In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies in La Jol­la, Tel Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty in Is­rael, and Monash Uni­ver­si­ty in Aus­tralia.

The team is call­ing for a large-scale clin­i­cal tri­al to see if MMP-2 in­hibitors might help peo­ple lose weight.

The study was led by Ma­zor and UCSD pro­fes­sor Geert Schmid-Schon­bein, which you can see in full here.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Novavax site in Gaithersburg, MD. Novavax

Beef­ing up its new gene ther­a­py unit, Catal­ent inks $18M deal to snap up No­vavax fa­cil­i­ties

Catal­ent’s hunt for rapid growth on the gene ther­a­py front — ce­ment­ed with a $1.2 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Paragon Bio­sciences two months ago — has led them to the vac­cine mak­ers at No­vavax.

With an $18 mil­lion pay­ment, Paragon is tak­ing over two No­vavax sites in Gaithers­burg, MD, in­clud­ing more than 100 of the em­ploy­ees al­ready work­ing there. That’s in ad­di­tion to a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in op­er­at­ing costs, says the com­pa­ny, as No­vavax shifts to re­ly on Paragon for GMP ma­te­ri­als in clin­i­cal tri­als and, even­tu­al­ly, com­mer­cial sup­ply of their prod­ucts.

Zo­genix plans quick re­turn to the FDA with their spurned ap­pli­ca­tion on Dravet syn­drome drug — shares spike

Zo­genix shares are claw­ing back some of the val­ue they lost 2 months ago af­ter the FDA hit the biotech with a refuse-to-file no­tice on their ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py for Dravet syn­drome. 

Com­pa­ny ex­ecs said this morn­ing that they worked out reg­u­la­tors’  is­sues with the ap­pli­ca­tion for Fin­tepla, which cen­tered on a pair of big prob­lems: the ab­sence of non-clin­i­cal stud­ies need­ed to al­low as­sess­ment of the chron­ic ad­min­is­tra­tion of fen­flu­ramine and the in­clu­sion of an in­cor­rect ver­sion of a clin­i­cal dataset. Now they plan to re­sub­mit in Q3 af­ter get­ting off the hook on both scores — which trig­gered a sigh of re­lief among in­vestors.

Turned back at the FDA, Im­muno­Gen is ax­ing 220 staffers, sell­ing pro­grams and hun­ker­ing down for a new PhI­II gam­ble

After being stymied by FDA regulators who were unconvinced by ImmunoGen’s $IMGN desperation shot at an accelerated OK based on a secondary endpoint, the struggling biotech is slashing its workforce, shuttering R&D projects and looking for buyers to pick up some of its experimental cancer assets as it goes back into a new Phase III with the lead drug.

We found out last month that the FDA had batted back their case for an accelerated approval of their antibody-drug conjugate mirvetuximab soravtansine, which had earlier failed a Phase III study for ovarian cancer. Now the other shoe is dropping.

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Bridge­Bio takes crown for biggest biotech IPO of 2019, as fel­low uni­corn Adap­tive rais­es of­fer­ing size and price

Bridge­Bio Phar­ma and Adap­tive Biotech­nolo­gies have not just up­sized IPO of­fer­ings — the pair of uni­corns have al­so raised their of­fer­ing prices above the range, haul­ing in a com­bined $648.5 mil­lion.

Neil Ku­mar’s Bridge­Bio Phar­ma, found­ed in 2015, has a sta­ble of com­pa­nies fo­cused on dis­eases that are dri­ven by de­fects in a sin­gle gene — en­com­pass­ing der­ma­tol­ogy, car­di­ol­o­gy, neu­rol­o­gy, en­docrinol­o­gy, re­nal dis­ease, and oph­thal­mol­o­gy — and can­cers with clear ge­net­ic dri­vers. The start­up mill birthed a pletho­ra of firms such as Ei­dos, Navire, QED Ther­a­peu­tics and Pelle­Pharm, which func­tion as its sub­sidiaries.

As­traZeneca chal­lenges Roche on front­line SCLC af­ter seiz­ing an in­ter­im win — and Mer­ck may not be far be­hind

The crowded playing field in the PD-1/L1 marketing game is about to get a little more complex.

This morning AstraZeneca reported that its CASPIAN study delivered a hit in an interim readout for their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with etoposide and platinum-based chemotherapy options for frontline cases of small cell lung cancer, a tough target which has already knocked back Bristol-Myers’ shot in second-line cases. The positive data  — which we won’t see before they roll it out at an upcoming scientific conference — give AstraZeneca excellent odds of a quick vault to challenging Roche’s Tecentriq-chemo combo, approved 3 months ago for frontline SCLC in a landmark advance.

“This is the first trial offering the flexibility of combining immunotherapy with different platinum-based regimens in small cell lung cancer, expanding treatment options,” noted AstraZeneca cancer R&D chief José Baselga in a statement.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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