Ab­b­Vie jumps on the on­colyt­ics band­wag­on, em­brac­ing Turn­stone in new col­lab­o­ra­tion

Turn­stone CEO Sam­my Farah

Ab­b­Vie has paid for a front row seat on the can­cer drug strat­e­gy be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed in the clin­ic at Turn­stone Bi­o­log­ics. The phar­ma out­fit snagged an op­tion to buy Turn­stone’s lead ther­a­py com­bin­ing an on­colyt­ic virus ap­proach and can­cer vac­cine. And if they dive in, Ab­b­Vie ex­pects to line up a shot at a se­ries of tu­mor types with an op­tion on two more pro­grams that Turn­stone will work on.

“This is the largest part­ner­ship ever formed in this field,” says Turn­stone CEO Sam­my Farah, who’s clear­ly pumped to be align­ing his biotech with a promi­nent play­er in can­cer R&D. “It’s a very sig­nif­i­cant, very mean­ing­ful part­ner­ship on many lev­els.”

Us­ing an en­gi­neered Mara­ba virus, re­searchers have pushed Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 in­to two Phase I/II stud­ies. The es­sen­tial ap­proach here fol­lows a clas­sic on­colyt­ics ap­proach — in­fect­ing a can­cer cell with the virus, which then ex­plodes. While there are a host of next-gen pro­grams to fol­low up on Am­gen’s Im­ly­g­ic, Turn­stone al­so in­cludes some­thing of a twist.

Sev­er­al of these sec­ond-wave on­colyt­ics are sys­tem­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered, which may help si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly at­tack the ori­gin tu­mor as well as metasta­t­ic sites. While many of these next-gen pro­grams re­ly on the anti­gens re­leased in the tu­mor ex­plo­sion to re­cruit a CD4- and CD8-pos­i­tive T cell at­tack for a mop­ping up op­er­a­tion — com­bined with a longterm mem­o­ry for the can­cer that should en­hance dura­bil­i­ty — Turn­stone’s ther­a­py en­codes a spe­cif­ic shared tu­mor anti­gen to make it in­to a can­cer vac­cine.

That added el­e­ment, Farah notes, makes for a key dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion from the rest of the drugs now in the clin­ic.

The third leg of this calls for a check­point in­hibitor, an­oth­er com­mon fea­ture in the on­colyt­ics are­na, so physi­cians could add a dis­arm­ing pro­ce­dure with a tar­get­ed at­tack and im­mune sys­tem as­sault.

Im­ly­g­ic, bet­ter known in some cir­cles at T-Vec, has helped es­tab­lish the proof that on­colyt­ics can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence for pa­tients. And while can­cer vac­cines have been in­ef­fec­tive so far in the clin­ic, they’re role is to en­hance the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect of the vi­ral at­tack. Check­points, mean­while, are be­ing added to just about every­thing.

Tom Hud­son, Ab­b­Vie

Turn­stone’s lead ther­a­py us­es the MAGE-A3 anti­gen for the vac­cine el­e­ment — the same tar­get that GSK tried and failed with in 2014.

A lit­tle more than a year ago Or­biMed led Turn­stone’s $41.4 mil­lion B round, with an ex­pand­ed syn­di­cate that in­clud­ed new in­vestor F-Prime Cap­i­tal Part­ners and ex­ist­ing in­vestors FAC­IT and Ver­sant Ven­tures, which led Turn­stone’s Se­ries A.

Af­ter the Phase I dose es­ca­la­tion phase is com­plete, Farah says he ex­pects that it will take a cou­ple of more years to com­plete the Phase II part of that tri­al. And along the way, he ex­pects the 25 mem­ber staff at Turn­stone to dou­ble over the next 12 to 18 months.

Ab­b­Vie added an en­dorse­ment with its col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“This unique ap­proach to can­cer treat­ment com­ple­ments our ex­pand­ing port­fo­lio of nov­el ther­a­pies in de­vel­op­ment,” said Tom Hud­son, vice pres­i­dent, on­col­o­gy dis­cov­ery and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment, Ab­b­Vie. “The com­bi­na­tion of our world-class ex­per­tise in on­col­o­gy drug de­vel­op­ment part­nered with Turn­stone’s in­no­v­a­tive ther­a­peu­tic plat­form has the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate first-in-class im­munother­a­pies that can at­tack tu­mors di­rect­ly and im­prove pa­tients’ re­sponse to treat­ment.”

John Hood [file photo]

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The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

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There’s nothing quite like a big patent win when it comes to burnishing your prospects in the pipeline. And for Amgen, which seems to have rescued Enbrel for a run to 2029, the cheering section on Wall Street is now fixed on AMG 510 and a key rival.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

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On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

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Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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