Achillion's CEO Milind Desh­pande steps down; Neu­ro­Vi­sion rais­es $11.2M for nov­el Alzheimer's de­tec­tion tech

Milind Desh­pande

Milind Desh­pande is step­ping down from Achillion $ACHN, the biotech he’s led for the bet­ter part of the last two decades, first as CSO and then as CEO. His de­par­ture leaves the fad­ed hep C star in the hands of for­mer COO Joseph Tru­itt, who al­ready has the pres­i­dent ti­tle. Dur­ing his tenure, Desh­pande steered a pipeline re­struc­tur­ing that re­brand­ed Achillion from an in­fec­tious dis­ease play­er to a spe­cial­ist in com­ple­ment bi­ol­o­gy, ax­ing staff just a few months ago. Tru­itt, who joined the com­pa­ny in 2009, emerged as a key fig­ure in that come­back nar­ra­tive. Hav­ing led com­mer­cial strat­e­gy and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, he will now prep Achillion for a se­ries of read­outs from its com­ple­ment fac­tor D in­hibitor pro­gram in rare dis­eases.

Neu­ro­Vi­sion, a com­pa­ny de­vel­op­ing a non-in­va­sive di­ag­nos­tic for Alzheimer’s dis­ease, has raised $11.2 mil­lion out of $15 mil­lion in planned Se­ries C fi­nanc­ing. Sacra­men­to, CA-based Neu­ro­Vi­sion at­tract­ed the back­ing of Wild­cat Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, J&J In­no­va­tion and oth­er in­vestors with an eye imag­ing sys­tem that aims to de­tect amy­loid be­ta plaque via the reti­na. Giv­en that amy­loid be­ta plaque de­posits in the brain are a hall­mark of Alzheimer’s dis­ease but are in­con­ve­nient and ex­pen­sive to de­tect, ex­ecs say, this new tech­nol­o­gy of­fers a low-cost al­ter­na­tive that could lead to ear­li­er de­tec­tion of dis­ease as well as eas­i­er screen­ing in clin­i­cal tri­als. Neu­ro­vi­sion is on track to seek reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval for the tech, which was li­censed from Cedars-Sinai Med­ical Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les.

→ UK gene edit­ing com­pa­ny Hori­zon Dis­cov­ery has snubbed a $370 mil­lion takeover bid by Ab­cam, an in­ter­na­tion­al re­search tool com­pa­ny. The pro­pos­al was re­ject­ed de­spite the fact that Ab­cam of­fered a price that rep­re­sent­ed a 26% pre­mi­um to Hori­zon’s clos­ing price on May 1. Ab­cam, which makes an­ti­bod­ies, pro­teins, and oth­er prod­ucts for re­searchers, is build­ing a new glob­al head­quar­ters at Cam­bridge Bio­med­ical Cam­pus and is on the hunt for strate­gic takeovers. Hori­zon would make a pret­ty match, Ab­cam says, al­low­ing each com­pa­ny to ex­pand their reach glob­al­ly. Ab­cam is pitch­ing that idea to Hori­zon’s share­hold­ers by go­ing pub­lic with its bid pro­pos­al. Shares in Hori­zon jumped 36% on the Lon­don ex­change on the news.

With con­tri­bu­tion by Brit­tany Meil­ing

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Frank Zhang (AP Images)

Rocked by cus­toms in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Leg­end's CFO takes over as CEO Frank Zhang placed un­der house ar­rest

When Frank Zhang stepped down from GenScript — the contract research group he’s run for 18 years — to take up the CEO post at its CAR-T focused spinout Legend Biotech, he assured analysts that he was in for the long haul.

Just 49 days later, though, he’s been forced to hand back the title.

In a dramatic turn of events, Legend disclosed that Zhang is under house arrest in China as part of a customs investigation involving GenScript. While he remains the chairman, CFO Ying Huang has been tapped to double as interim CEO.

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Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Israel Lowy (Regeneron)

#ES­MO20: 'As good as any PD-1 out there': Re­gen­eron flash­es PD-(L)1 lung can­cer da­ta to ri­val Mer­ck

Regeneron entered the PD-(L)1 game late, so they devised a two-pronged strategy to catch up with Big Pharma rivals: They would push it into cancers where PD-1s had yet been tested, and they would prove that it’s as powerful in the big indications as any other on the market.

They cleared a hurdle on the first goal Friday, showing a 31% response in patients with the rare skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. And with the data they’re rolling out Monday, Regeneron cancer chief Israel Lowy is ready to declare success on the second.

Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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As­traZeneca pub­lish­es Covid-19 vac­cine PhI­II pro­to­cols in lock­step with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er. How are they dif­fer­ent?

Following in the steps of Moderna and Pfizer, the other two American drugmakers currently in Phase III trials for their Covid-19 vaccines, AstraZeneca posted its own study protocols over the weekend. The move is the latest in a series of rare peeks behind the curtain, as such blueprints are typically shared once such trials are completed.

“Given the unprecedented global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for public information, AstraZeneca has published the detailed protocol and design of our AZD1222 clinical trial. As with most clinical development, protocols are not typically shared publicly due to the importance of maintaining confidentiality and integrity of trials. AstraZeneca continues to work with industry peers to ensure a consistent approach to sharing timely clinical trial information,” the company said in a statement.

Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: #ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Sebastian Nijman (file photo)

Roche looks to ge­net­ic mod­i­fiers for new drug tar­gets, team­ing up with Dutch biotech in $375M deal

Roche is gambling on a new way of discovering drug targets and, ultimately, promising to infuse more than $375 million into a small biotech if all goes well.

A spinout of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Oxford University, Scenic Biotech set out to pioneer a field that’s gaining some traction among top VCs in the US: to harness the natural protecting powers of genetic modifiers — specific genes that suppress a disease phenotype.

Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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