Affini­vax, Astel­las be­gin clin­i­cal quest to beat Pfiz­er's Go­liath with a new kind of pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine

Days af­ter the FDA blessed Mer­ck’s ef­fort to chal­lenge Pfiz­er’s mega-block­buster Pre­vnar 13 with a break­through des­ig­na­tion, Affini­vax is mak­ing the leap in­to the clin­ic with its own take on the pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine.

It’s no small feat for a biotech play­er that got start­ed with $4 mil­lion in seed fund­ing from the Gates Foun­da­tion in 2014 and has been run­ning pure­ly on grants as well as part­ner­ship dol­lars from Astel­las — which is shoul­der­ing much of clin­i­cal work in the Phase I/II study.

“We’ve done in less than five years at Affini­vax what the big vac­cine play­ers like Mer­ck and Pfiz­er and Sanofi and GSK have been try­ing to do for over 20 years,” CEO Steve Brug­ger tells me. “We have ac­tu­al­ly de­vel­oped a true next gen­er­a­tion tech­nol­o­gy for vac­cines.”

Rick Mal­ley

Hav­ing spent the past few years in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing the tech­nol­o­gy that came out of Rick Mal­ley’s lab at Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, Brug­ger and his crew of 68 are con­fi­dent that its prod­uct, ASP3772, can pro­vide “broad­er pro­tec­tion than any vac­cine in the mar­ket or any vac­cine that we’re aware of in clin­i­cal test­ing to­day.”

The spe­cif­ic num­ber of serotypes it will cov­er, though, will be kept se­cret for a lit­tle longer.

Dubbed the mul­ti­ple anti­gen pre­sent­ing sys­tem, or MAPS, Affini­vax’s tech plat­form fore­goes tra­di­tion­al con­ju­gate chem­istry al­to­geth­er in fa­vor of a bi­otin-rhiza­vidin bond, thus re­duc­ing cross-link­ing be­tween pro­teins and poly­sac­cha­rides. More im­por­tant­ly, the pro­teins — mere car­ri­ers in tra­di­tion­al vac­cines — are de­signed to elic­it B and T cell re­spons­es along­side the poly­sac­cha­rides they are bound to.

It’s an ap­proach that’s sup­posed to sep­a­rate Affini­vax from both the big guys and small­er chal­lengers like SutroVax, which has $170 mil­lion to push its own first-in-class con­ju­gate vac­cine to the clin­ic.

That will all be put to the test in the 618-pa­tient tri­al, as ASP3772 gets ad­min­is­tered to both adults and el­der­ly, and com­pared against Pre­vnar 13 as well as Pneu­movax.

Mean­while, the launch of the tri­al has trig­gered a mile­stone pay­ment from Astel­las — $10 mil­lion in cash that will fund Affini­vax’s oth­er bac­te­r­i­al vac­cine projects and some ear­ly, ex­plorato­ry work on im­muno-on­col­o­gy, where the abil­i­ty to present mul­ti­ple im­mune-re­sponse in­duc­ing anti­gens seems to hold promise.

“We stayed home for the first four years and fo­cused on let’s get the lead flag­ship pro­gram in­to the clin­ic, let’s val­i­date the tech­nol­o­gy clin­i­cal­ly, which we’re on track to do,” Brug­ger says. “Now as we look at be­gin­ning of 2019, where else can we ap­ply this tech­nol­o­gy?”


Im­age: Steve Brug­ger.

As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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Ab­b­Vie wins an ap­proval in uter­ine fi­broid-as­so­ci­at­ed heavy bleed­ing. Are ri­vals My­ovant and Ob­sE­va far be­hind?

Women expel on average about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their time of the month. But with uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding is typical — a third of a cup or more. Drugmakers have been working on oral therapies to try and stem the flow, and as expected, AbbVie and their partners at Neurocrine Biosciences are the first to make it across the finish line.

Known chemically as elagolix, the drug is already approved as a treatment for endometriosis under the brand name Orilissa. It targets the GnRH receptor to decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone.

Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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David Chang, Allogene CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Head­ed to PhII: Al­lo­gene CEO David Chang com­pletes a pos­i­tive ear­ly snap­shot of their off-the-shelf CAR-T pi­o­neer

Allogene CEO David Chang has completed the upbeat first portrait of the biotech’s off-the-shelf CAR-T contender ALLO-501 at virtual ASCO today, keeping all eyes on a drug that will now try to go on to replace the first-wave personalized pioneers he helped create.

The overall response rate outlined in Allogene’s abstract for treatment-resistant patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma slipped a little from the leadup, but if you narrow the patient profile to treatment-naïve patients — removing the 3 who had previous CAR-T therapy who didn’t respond, leaving 16 — the ORR lands at 75% with a 44% complete response rate. And 9 of the 12 responders remained in response at the data cutoff, offering a glimpse on durability that still has a long way to go before it can be completely nailed down.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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Bryan Roberts, Venrock

Ven­rock sur­vey shows grow­ing recog­ni­tion of coro­n­avirus toll, wan­ing con­fi­dence in ar­rival of vac­cines and treat­ments

When Venrock partner Bryan Roberts went to check the results from their annual survey of healthcare leaders, what he found was an imprint of the pandemic’s slow arrival in America.

The venture firm had sent their form out to hundreds of insurance and health tech executives, investors, officials and academics on February 24 and gave them two weeks to fill it out. No Americans had died at that point but the coronavirus had become enough of a global crisis that they included two questions about the virus, including “Total U.S. deaths in 2020 from the novel coronavirus will be:”.

As­traZeneca’s $7B ADC suc­ceeds where Roche failed, im­prov­ing sur­vival in gas­tric can­cer

Another day, another win for Enhertu.

The antibody-drug conjugate AstraZeneca promised up-to $7 billion to partner on has had a quite a few months, beginning with splashy results in a Phase II breast cancer trial, a rapid approval and, earlier this month, breakthrough designations in both non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Now, at ASCO, the British pharma and their Japanese partner, Daiichi Sankyo, have shown off the data that led to the gastric cancer designation, which they’ll take back to the FDA. In a pivotal, 187-person Phase II trial, Enhertu shrunk tumors in 42.9% of third-line patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, compared with 12.5% in a control arm where doctors prescribed their choice of therapy. Progression-free survival was 5.4 months for Enhertu compared to 3.5 months for the control.