STUNG: Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs reach­es for the bud­get ax — again — on the heels of their lat­est set­back with No­var­tis

A lit­tle less than a year ago, Aduro $ADRO CEO Stephen Isaacs start­ed 2019 by whack­ing about a third of the staff. In what’s be­come an an­nu­al event now, he’s kick­ing off 2020 by evis­cer­at­ing the re­main­ing staff, lay­ing off 51 staffers while cut­ting more than half the head count at the Bay Area biotech.

As SVB Leerink’s Daina Gray­bosch not­ed Thurs­day evening, the lat­est down­siz­ing — which in­cludes clos­ing their sub in the Nether­lands — comes af­ter No­var­tis kicked loose their STING ag­o­nist ADU-S100.

Gray­bosch adds:

Aduro will fo­cus spend on their two clin­i­cal pro­grams: ADU-S100 with pem­brolizum­ab (MRK, OP) in squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma of the head and neck and non-mus­cle in­va­sive blad­der can­cer, as well as BION-1301 (an­ti-APRIL) in Im­munoglob­u­lin A Nephropa­thy. They will al­so con­tin­ue dis­cov­ery of new cGAS-STING can­di­dates as part of their col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lil­ly for au­to-im­mune dis­ease and No­var­tis for can­cer (sys­temic ag­o­nists).

“We are cre­at­ing a more stream­lined or­ga­ni­za­tion by fo­cus­ing on gen­er­at­ing clin­i­cal da­ta and iden­ti­fy­ing can­di­dates for the cGAS pro­gram to bring for­ward in­to de­vel­op­ment,’ said the CEO in a pre­pared state­ment.

Aduro went pub­lic close to 5 years ago at $17 a share, tout­ing a pair of can­cer vac­cines and an on­col­o­gy pipeline, then saw the stock price rise to $40 soon af­ter. Af­ter that, things got rough — but very slow­ly.

A warmed up can­cer vac­cine — GVAX, one of the ini­tial wave — was a bust. Late in 2017 their oth­er can­cer vac­cine CRS-207, reengi­neered Lis­te­ria mono­cy­to­genes, hit the wall af­ter a long and trou­bled de­vel­op­ment pro­gram, forc­ing Isaacs to wash his hands of the ef­fort.

Then J&J backed out of a promi­nent al­liance last fall. And Mer­ck didn’t make any­thing bet­ter when it ac­knowl­edged at ES­MO that its own STING ther­a­py didn’t ac­tu­al­ly work on its own.

On Thurs­day Aduro’s stock closed at $1.33.

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.

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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.

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Sci­en­tists warn Amer­i­cans are ex­pect­ing too much from a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

The White House and many Americans have pinned their hopes for defeating the Covid-19 pandemic on a vaccine being developed at “warp speed.” But some scientific experts warn they’re all expecting too much, too soon.

“Everyone thinks COVID-19 will go away with a vaccine,” said William Haseltine, chair and president of Access Health International, a foundation that advocates for affordable care.

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.”

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No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan signs off on a $231M deal to try some­thing new in the R&D fight against SARS-CoV-2

Patrick Amstutz was baptized by pandemic fire early on.

He and colleagues attended the notorious Cowen conference in early March that included some of the top Biogen execs who helped trigger a superspreader event in Boston. Heading back to his post as CEO of Molecular Partners in Switzerland, the outbreak was sweeping through Italy, triggering near panic in some quarters and creeping into the voices of people he knew, including one friend on the Italian side of the country.

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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.

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.

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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.

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