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

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Ex-My­lan em­ploy­ee pleads guilty to in­sid­er trad­ing, il­le­gal­ly deal­ing on FDA ap­provals, earn­ings and Up­john merg­er

A former Mylan IT executive pleaded guilty Friday to an insider trading scheme where he bought and sold stock options on another executive’s advice.

Prosecutors secured the plea from Dayakar Mallu, Mylan’s former VP of global operations information technology, after uncovering the plan. Mallu collaborated with an unnamed “senior manager,” the SEC said, to trade options ahead of Mylan public announcements regarding FDA approvals, revenue reports and its merger with the Pfizer generics subsidiary Upjohn. The two subsequently shared profits.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

Den­mark's Gubra to col­lab­o­rate with Bay­er on pep­tides; Sam­sung and Bio­gen re­ceive FDA ap­proval for Lu­cen­tis biosim­i­lar

Danish biotech Gubra announced a research collaboration and license agreement with Bayer to develop peptide therapeutics to treat cardiorenal diseases. The collaboration will utilize Gubra’s peptide drug discovery platform to identify potential candidates.

This is not the first time Gubra has partnered with a company on peptide therapeutics — they partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim back in 2017 to create peptide therapeutics to treat obesity.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.