Robert Coughlin, MassBio CEO (MassBio)

Af­ter down year, 2020 brings new cash in­to Mass­a­chu­setts biotech

The sea of cash that has hit biotech since the pan­dem­ic be­gan has not left out its biggest sec­tor: Mass­a­chu­setts.

Through the first half of 2020, ven­ture cap­i­tal firms have poured more than $2.1 bil­lion in­to biotechs in the state, set­ting the sec­tor on a pace to re­bound af­ter a down year in 2019. The new fig­ure, in­clud­ed in a new in­dus­try snap­shot from the trade group Mass­Bio, is more than 2/3 the $3.1 bil­lion biotechs in the state raised through the en­tire­ty of last year, and would put the sec­tor on track to raise more than any year in the last decade be­sides 2018.

The his­toric IPO boom hasn’t passed the sec­tor over ei­ther. A third of biotech IPOs came from Mass­a­chu­setts, with each com­pa­ny av­er­ag­ing $187 mil­lion.

Eliz­a­beth Steele Mass Bio

“This is all hap­pen­ing dur­ing a pan­dem­ic that is crip­pling the world econ­o­my, but it is def­i­nite­ly putting a spot­light on our in­dus­try and bio­phar­ma in­no­va­tion,” Eliz­a­beth Steele, vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams and glob­al af­fairs at Mass­Bio and au­thor of the re­port, told End­points News. “In 2019, there was a dip in ven­ture cap­i­tal, there was a dip in IPOs over the year be­fore, and I think in 2020 every­one un­der­stands what it feels like to have an un­met med­ical need.”

The re­port comes out as BIO, PhRMA and the in­dus­tries they rep­re­sent go toe to toe again with the White House on pric­ing leg­is­la­tion, af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day signed ex­ec­u­tive or­ders de­signed to curb drug prices. BIO CEO Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath spoke out against the or­ders — which are con­sid­ered large­ly sym­bol­ic on their own — on Fri­day.

In a state­ment, Mass­Bio CEO Robert Cough­lin ar­gued the Mass­a­chu­setts re­port and the de­flat­ed 2019 num­bers were ev­i­dence that drug-pric­ing leg­is­la­tion that ad­vanced last year, which in­clud­ed a bi­par­ti­san bill in the Sen­ate and a De­mo­c­ra­t­ic bill in the House, had culled in­vest­ment. No­tably, though, fund­ing in Mass­a­chu­setts had been down since the first half of 2019, be­fore ei­ther bill was in­tro­duced. The is­sue had, how­ev­er, al­ready ap­peared on the De­mo­c­ra­t­ic cam­paign trail.

“In 2019, we saw some of the most se­vere leg­is­la­tion around drug pric­ing for the in­dus­try, both in Mass­a­chu­setts and fed­er­al­ly, which led to a de­cline in in­vest­ment as we pre­dict­ed it would,” Cough­lin said. “The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has since up­end­ed our coun­try’s econ­o­my, put a spot­light on the true val­ue of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try in ad­dress­ing a hu­man health cri­sis, and cre­at­ed a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of just how dif­fi­cult it is to de­vel­op a ther­a­py or vac­cine.”

The new re­port al­so shows that de­spite re­ports of traf­fic and over­crowd­ing in Kendall Square — or at least pre-pan­dem­ic re­ports of traf­fic and over­crowd­ing — Mass­a­chu­setts re­mains the fastest grow­ing state for biotech R&D jobs. Those jobs rose 18% last year to over 45,000, putting the state just be­hind Cal­i­for­nia. And to­tal Mass­a­chu­setts biotech jobs rose 7.7% last year to just un­der 80,000. Take­da and Sanofi were the largest em­ploy­ers.

Cam­bridge alone con­tin­ues to re­ceive 59% of all in­vest­ment, al­though Mass­Bio ex­pects to see that num­ber de­cline in the near fu­ture.

“We’re hop­ing that more mi­ni-clus­ters pop up in the ar­eas around Boston/Cam­bridge and push fur­ther out,” Steele said. “Cam­bridge is def­i­nite­ly spe­cial and re­mark­able but it doesn’t mean that a com­pa­ny can’t be based 20 min­utes away and still when the pan­dem­ic is over come in­to Cam­bridge for a cof­fee and meet peo­ple face to face.”

The lead­ing Mass­a­chu­setts pri­vate rounds came from Black­stone-backed An­thos Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $250 mil­lion in a sin­gle round, El­e­vate Bio, and Beam Ther­a­peu­tics. The lead­ing IPOs came from For­ma Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $278 mil­lion, and Black Di­a­mond Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $231 mil­lion.

Steele said she ex­pects af­ter a huge year in 2018 and a down year in 2019, the next few years will bring the steady rise the in­dus­try saw for much of the 2010s.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Joshua Cohen (L) and Justin Klee, Amylyx co-CEOs

BREAK­ING: Af­ter long and wind­ing road, FDA ap­proves Amy­lyx's ALS drug in vic­to­ry for pa­tients and ad­vo­ca­cy groups

For just the third time in its 116-year history, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

US regulators gave the thumbs-up to the drug, known as Relyvrio, in a massive win for patients and their families. The approval, given to Boston-area biotech Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, comes after two years of long and contentious debates over the drug’s effectiveness between advocacy groups and FDA scientists, following the readout of a mid-stage clinical trial in September 2020.

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Some­one old, some­one new: Mod­er­na pro­motes CTO, raids No­var­tis for re­place­ment amid pipeline push

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel made clear on the last quarterly call that “now is not the time to slow down.” On Thursday, he made a bit more room in the cockpit.

The company unveiled a new executive role on Thursday, promoting former chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres to president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, and poaching a former Novartis exec to take his place.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Tar­sus looks to raise aware­ness of eye­lid mite dis­ease in cam­paign aimed at eye­care spe­cial­ists

Eyelid mite disease may be “gross” but it’s also fairly common, affecting about 25 million people in the US.

Called demodex blepharitis, it’s a well-known condition among eyecare professionals, but they often don’t always realize how common it is. Tarsus Pharmaceuticals wants to change that with a new awareness campaign called “Look at the Lids.”

The campaign and website debut Thursday — just three weeks after Tarsus filed for FDA approval for a drug that treats the disease.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

FDA's ad­vanced ther­a­pies of­fice pro­vides more clar­i­ty on gene ther­a­py CMC con­sid­er­a­tions

As the Office of Tissue and Advanced Therapies (OTAT) transforms into the Office of Therapeutic Products (OTP), with new user fee funds and “super office” status, the department focused on cell and gene therapies also opened its doors to a town hall Thursday offering clarification on guidance and regulations for manufacturers.

Some of the major concerns from manufacturers were the CMC considerations between first-in-human studies and late-phase studies supporting a marketing approval.

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Pa­tient re­port finds con­sti­pa­tion con­di­tion not well-man­aged, open­ing door for bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion from phar­ma

Advertising for constipation treatments often uses light-hearted humor in an effort to spur open discussions about the sometimes stigmatized topic. However, that may not be enough to get people to take the condition seriously, a new patient report from Phreesia finds.

Fewer than one-fifth (17%) of patients with constipation surveyed understand the longer-term health risks of constipation such as hemorrhoids and bowel incontinence. Many are trying to manage their condition with over-the-counter medicines, but often for much longer than recommended. An equal 68% say they use home remedies or OTC meds to manage constipation. But while 90% understand that OTCs are not intended for long-term use, 50% have used an OTC constipation medicine for more than a year.

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