A swarm of top biotech ex­ecs protest against Trump’s trav­el ban, say­ing it threat­ens the en­tire in­dus­try

The re­ac­tion against Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to ban trav­el from 7 pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim na­tions drew an in­stant re­ac­tion from the biotech world, gain­ing a quick thumbs-down from a large ma­jor­i­ty of the hun­dreds of in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives we’ve been in touch with.

Now the biotech op­po­si­tion is get­ting or­ga­nized.

In a let­ter pub­lished in Na­ture Biotech­nol­o­gy this morn­ing, 166 biotech ex­ecs lev­eled a blast at Trump’s trav­el ban, now stayed at least tem­porar­i­ly by a court rul­ing, say­ing that it strikes at the heart of the in­dus­try’s abil­i­ty to re­cruit the best and bright­est staff from all over the world while rais­ing deep seat­ed fears among all their staffers from out­side the US.

The let­ter was signed by a long line­up of high-pro­file ex­ec­u­tives drawn from the CEO suite, ven­ture cap­i­tal and acad­e­mia, in­clud­ing Herve Hop­penot, the French CEO of Delaware-based In­cyte, George Scan­gos, the for­mer Bio­gen CEO who’s now lead­ing a start­up, and MIT’s Bob Langer, a se­r­i­al biotech en­tre­pre­neur with more than 30 star­tups to his cred­it.

“If this mis­guid­ed pol­i­cy is not re­versed,” they say, “Amer­i­ca is at risk of los­ing its lead­er­ship po­si­tion in one of its most im­por­tant sec­tors, one that will shape the world in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.”

The let­ter un­der­scores the groundswell of op­po­si­tion in the in­dus­try to the ban. It al­so high­lights a grow­ing di­vide be­tween the ex­ec­u­tives who lead this field and BIO, the in­dus­try or­ga­ni­za­tion which lob­bies on their be­half. So far BIO has stayed mum about the trav­el ban.

(Ed­i­tor’s note: Late on Tues­day I re­ceived the fol­low­ing state­ment from BIO Chair Ron Co­hen and three board mem­bers, Je­re­my Levin, John Maraganore and Paul Hast­ings, tak­ing ex­cep­tion to that re­mark about BIO.

“We did want to high­light an in­ac­cu­ra­cy in your re­port re­gard­ing spec­u­la­tion that the let­ter re­flects a “grow­ing rift” be­tween BIO and its CEO and com­pa­ny mem­bers. There is no such rift, grow­ing or oth­er­wise; we are choos­ing to speak out on the ban as in­dus­try lead­ers, not as a trade as­so­ci­a­tion. This is not dis­sim­i­lar to how tech in­dus­try CEOs, not their trade as­so­ci­a­tion, have spo­ken out on this mat­ter. In­deed, we be­lieve that BIO is an es­sen­tial or­ga­ni­za­tion for the well-be­ing of our in­dus­try, which is why we all de­vote con­sid­er­able time out of our busy sched­ules to its ac­tiv­i­ties.”

My re­ply: Si­lence is a po­si­tion, and it’s marked­ly dif­fer­ent from what ex­ecs, in­clud­ing these board mem­bers, have ex­pressed.)

Most of the top CEOs of the Big Phar­ma com­pa­nies, many of whom have been lob­by­ing for tax re­form that would al­low them to repa­tri­ate bil­lions of dol­lars in re­serves held over­seas, have al­so stayed qui­et on this is­sue. But there was at least one ex­cep­tion to the Big Phar­ma rule of si­lence — aside from Al­ler­gan CEO Brent Saun­ders.

“Sci­ence doesn’t have any bor­ders, so any­thing that gets in the way of a bor­der­less sci­ence ex­change doesn’t help,” said As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot, quot­ed to­day by Bloomberg. The UK-based phar­ma gi­ant has re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing sites in Mass­a­chu­setts and Mary­land. “We want to be able to move our peo­ple and our sci­en­tists around the world.”

The Bloomberg sto­ry al­so rais­es con­cerns that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on the H-1B visa pro­gram used to bring in sci­en­tists from around the world could be al­tered, mak­ing it hard­er to re­cruit abroad.

Here’s a por­tion of the let­ter:

The Unit­ed States has led the world in med­i­cine pro­duc­tion for decades, not on­ly be­cause of its abil­i­ty to fi­nance drug dis­cov­ery, but al­so be­cause, more than any oth­er coun­try, the Unit­ed States rep­re­sents op­por­tu­ni­ty re­gard­less of bor­ders, gen­der, race, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or po­lit­i­cal cast. This has en­abled our in­dus­try to at­tract the best tal­ent, wher­ev­er it is found. This as­pect of our in­dus­try is a core rea­son the Unit­ed States has built its unique strength in bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

At a stroke, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion has com­pro­mised years of in­vest­ment in this na­tion­al trea­sure. Our col­leagues who are here on visas or are in glob­al out­posts are now fear­ful and un­cer­tain of their sta­tus. Sci­en­tists based in oth­er coun­tries and em­ployed by our com­pa­nies are afraid to come to the Unit­ed States or are can­cel­ing trips. The par­ents and fam­i­lies of im­mi­grants who live and work in the Unit­ed States are re­luc­tant to at­tempt to trav­el to and from the US.

Though the ban from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is aimed at sev­en coun­tries, our glob­al em­ploy­ees in­ter­pret the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage as, “Amer­i­ca is no longer wel­com­ing of any im­mi­grants, what­so­ev­er.” They fear sim­i­lar or­ders could be is­sued for oth­er coun­tries at a mo­ment’s no­tice. They fear be­ing stig­ma­tized and dis­crim­i­nat­ed against, sim­ply be­cause of their re­li­gion, ir­re­spec­tive of the na­tion they come from. Sev­er­al among us have heard from em­ploy­ees about their de­por­ta­tion fears, how they do not feel com­fort­able leav­ing the coun­try on busi­ness or how they now feel cut off from their fam­i­ly abroad.

Every na­tion has the right to de­ter­mine who comes across its bor­ders. Every na­tion needs to be vig­i­lant in de­fend­ing it­self against and hunt­ing down ter­ror­ists. The ac­tions tak­en by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ev­er, were poor­ly con­ceived and im­ple­ment­ed; they have raised deep fears and con­cerns across the biotech in­dus­try, in which di­ver­si­ty and the free flow of ideas and peo­ple have cre­at­ed an Amer­i­can pow­er­house of med­i­cine. 

If this mis­guid­ed pol­i­cy is not re­versed, Amer­i­ca is at risk of los­ing its lead­er­ship po­si­tion in one of its most im­por­tant sec­tors, one that will shape the world in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. In­deed, it will harm an in­dus­try dom­i­nat­ed by small­er com­pa­nies and star­tups, the very kind of in­dus­try the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it wants to sup­port. It will slow the fight against the many dis­eases that af­flict us, as well as car­ry neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic con­se­quences for the Unit­ed States.

You can find a PDF with the list of ex­ec­u­tives who signed the let­ter here: Im­mi­gra­tion Let­ter Sig­na­tures

Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Cedric Francois, Apellis CEO (Optum via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: So­bi bets $250M cash, about $1B in mile­stones for rights to a C3 ther­a­py be­ing pushed through 5 piv­otal tri­als

A couple years after licensing Novimmune’s emapalumab and turning around a quick FDA OK, Stockholm-based Sobi is betting up to $1.2 billion for rights to another rare disease drug.

The company is shelling out $250 million upfront and adding up to $915 million in milestones for rights to develop and commercialize Apellis Pharmaceuticals’ drug pegcetacoplan outside the US. Together, the companies will see the systemic C3 therapy through five registrational trials in hematology, nephrology and neurology.

Once re­ject­ed, Kala's dry eye drug now gains en­try to a field where No­var­tis is groom­ing its own block­buster

When the FDA slapped a rejection on Kala Pharma’s dry eye drug last August, the biotech’s execs promised investors that a third Phase III study — they had already started at that point — would reverse their fortune.

Today they made good on that promise, clinching an approval for Eysuvis, an ocular corticosteroid being positioned as a first-line, short term treatment of dry eye disease.

Boasting a technology invented by Bob Langer out of MIT, Eysuvis is a corticosteroid, loteprednol etabonate, delivered by mucus-penetrating particles. It promises to enhance penetration into target tissue on the ocular surface, achieving an effect quicker than systemic corticosteroids and stronger than over-the-counter eye drops.

Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Patrick Soon-Sh­iong steps down as CEO of Nan­tK­west, a linch­pin of his 'Cancer Moon­shot'

Five years after he took public what was then the most valuable IPO in biotech history, billionaire surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong is stepping down as CEO of NantKwest.

Soon-Shiong’s sudden departure comes as NantKwest adds a clinical-stage Covid-19 vaccine effort to the natural killer immunotherapies they’ve been developing for years. He remains the majority shareholder and he’ll stay on as executive chairman, but he leaves behind a complicated legacy and few tangible results from a company that briefly captured the attention of many in and outside of biotech. Richard Adcock, former CEO of Verity Health Systems and a longtime healthcare — albeit not biotech — executive, will take over the helm.

Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Yung Chyung, Scholar Rock CMO (Business Wire)

A dark horse en­trant in­to the spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy field dou­bles its val­ue on some PhII da­ta

The last four years have seen a sudden explosion in treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, a neurodegenerative condition that once led patients — often young ones — with a grim prognosis and no options. The prognosis still isn’t rosy, but now there are three FDA-approved options, enough to make the choice of one difficult.

Now a fourth potential option has entered the mix. Today, Scholar Rock announced the results from a proof-of-concept testing their SMA drug by itself and in combination with Ionis’ Spinraza, showing that all patient cohorts improved on standard scales used for measuring motor function in people with SMA.