Rachel Haurwitz (Caribou)

Ab­b­Vie taps Jen­nifer Doud­na start­up for li­cens­ing deal worth up to $300M for 2 'off-the-shelf' CRISPR-edit­ed CAR-Ts

“Off-the-shelf” CAR-Ts have emerged as a hot-tick­et tar­get in next-gen on­col­o­gy R&D, with Big Phar­mas plac­ing big down pay­ments on nov­el tech. Now, a Cal­i­for­nia biotech play­er found­ed by one of the CRISPR move­ment’s most promi­nent mouth­pieces has added ma­jor drug­mak­er Ab­b­Vie as a team­mate.

Ab­b­Vie will pay Cari­bou Bio­sciences $40 mil­lion in up­front cash and $300 mil­lion in biobucks to de­vel­op two of the biotech’s al­lo­gene­ic CAR-T ther­a­pies, the part­ners said Wednes­day. The biotech will al­so be due roy­al­ty pay­ments for any fu­ture com­mer­cial as­sets.

Jen­nifer Doud­na

Cari­bou, co-found­ed by CRISPR maven Jen­nifer Doud­na and head­ed by one of Doud­na’s acolytes, Rachel Hau­r­witz, us­es hy­brid DNA/RNA edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy dubbed chRD­NA — pro­nounced “chardon­nay” for the wine drinkers — the biotech be­lieves can stop off-tar­get edit­ing com­mon to cur­rent CRISPR ap­pli­ca­tions.

Ab­b­Vie will have the op­tion to pay an ex­tra fee for ac­cess to two ad­di­tion­al CAR-T pro­grams, Cari­bou said.

On a call with End­points News, Hau­r­witz de­clined to com­ment on what drew Ab­b­Vie to Cari­bou’s tech­nol­o­gy or what ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas the drug­mak­er want­ed to tar­get with the po­ten­tial CAR-Ts. That’s not un­usu­al: Ab­b­Vie is usu­al­ly cagey with its ear­ly de­vel­op­ment deals.

In­stead, the young CEO — just 35 and one of the lead­ing voic­es in the CRISPR move­ment — tout­ed her plat­form’s po­ten­tial to re­work cur­rent lim­i­ta­tions on al­lo­gene­ic CAR-Ts, in­clud­ing pa­tients’ im­mune sys­tems re­ject­ing donor cells. The ef­fects could be most ap­par­ent, how­ev­er, in man­u­fac­tur­ing, a chron­i­cal­ly ex­pen­sive and time con­sum­ing process for CAR-Ts.

Un­like tra­di­tion­al CAR-Ts, which re­quire com­pa­nies to re-en­gi­neer pa­tients cells that are of­ten dam­aged af­ter chemother­a­py and past ther­a­pies, al­lo­gene­ic ther­a­pies can use donor cells that are health­i­er and faster to ad­min­is­ter.

“It re­al­ly has tremen­dous ad­van­tages from a tim­ing per­spec­tive,” Hau­r­witz said. “There are of course re­al­ly nice ad­van­tages in terms of qual­i­ty and cost of goods.”

Al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­pies are among the hottest fields in next-gen on­col­o­gy, and Ab­b­Vie — one of the four largest drug­mak­ers on earth — is seek­ing to take a mod­est-sized bet out on Cari­bou’s stout rep­u­ta­tion and clin­i­cal po­ten­tial.

The biotech has two lead pro­grams: CB-010, an an­ti-CD19 CAR-T that deletes PD-1 cur­rent­ly in a Phase I tri­al, and CB-011, a pre­clin­i­cal as­set that hopes to uti­lize “im­mune cloak­ing” to avoid the hu­man im­mune sys­tem, Hau­r­witz said.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.

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Bio­phar­ma's suc­cess rate in bring­ing drugs to mar­ket has long been abysmal. Can new tools help rewrite that trou­bled past?

In 2011, a team of researchers at British drugmaker AstraZeneca had a problem they were looking to solve.

For years, drug discovery and development were a wasteland for innovation. Novel drugs largely fell into one of two categories — monoclonal antibodies and small molecules — and new therapeutic modalities were hard to come by. After a rush of promising approvals in the late 1990s — including then-Biogen’s CD20 targeting antibody breakthrough Rituxan — the field stagnated and attrition rates stayed sky-high. What exactly is the industry doing wrong? AstraZeneca asked itself.

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