Af­ter pi­lot project, Take­da inks $500M pact to tap in­to a Ke­van Shokat pro­tégé's co­va­lent small mol­e­cule fish­ing plat­form

As new tech­nolo­gies open up new av­enues to­ward tar­gets wide­ly con­sid­ered un­drug­gable by small mol­e­cules, Take­da is tak­ing a chance on a low-pro­file drug dis­cov­ery play­er with promis­es of up to $500 mil­lion in biobucks.

Ping Cao

Over the next two years, Sun­ny­vale, CA-based Brid­Gene will de­ploy its chem­i­cal pro­teomics-based plat­form for five pro­grams against tar­gets of in­ter­est, start­ing with one im­pli­cat­ed in neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

It all start­ed, ac­cord­ing to Brid­Gene CEO Ping Cao, with an in-per­son meet­ing at JP Mor­gan last Jan­u­ary.

“If you talk to a chemist or sci­en­tist in a large firm, they al­ways say we are tar­get hun­gry,” he said.

Cao, who spent enough years at Am­gen’s San Fran­cis­co site to be ap­proach­ing lif­er sta­tus, knew the is­sue well. With the low-hang­ing fruit al­ready picked, re­main­ing dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins of­ten have pock­ets that are ei­ther too shal­low (think KRAS) or tran­sient, pre­sent­ing them­selves on­ly in live cells (think tran­scrip­tion fac­tor).

Take­da was no dif­fer­ent. The phar­ma gi­ant has a large phe­no­typ­ic screen­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Japan where sci­en­tists iden­ti­fy phe­no­typ­ic changes caused by mol­e­cules in their li­brary, but there’s a ma­jor hur­dle in fig­ur­ing out what ex­act­ly caused the change. Once Cao pre­sent­ed their tech­nol­o­gy, it took lit­tle time to kick­start a pi­lot project in which Take­da hand­ed over some of their clin­i­cal can­di­dates for Brid­Gene to pro­file.

“We use co­va­lent small mol­e­cules as a bait,” he said. “So we fish in­side live cells. So live cells are like an ocean; each pro­tein is just like a fish there. Dif­fer­ent small mol­e­cules, they will fish out dif­fer­ent tar­gets or dif­fer­ent pro­teins.”

Chao Zhang

The core tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise came from sci­en­tif­ic founder Chao Zhang’s lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Hav­ing trained with Ke­van Shokat, the in­ven­tor of one of the ear­li­est KRAS G12C in­hibitors, Zhang came up with his own method of min­ing co­va­lent ki­nase in­hibitors, col­lab­o­rat­ing with Prin­cip­ia co-founder Jack Taunton along the way. That com­pa­ny, which boasts of BTK in­hibitors, sold to Sanofi for $3.7 bil­lion. Shokat, mean­while, is on the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board.

From March to Sep­tem­ber, Brid­Gene’s team of 10 put sev­er­al Take­da can­cer drugs through its plat­form and came up with a re­port de­tail­ing how many pro­teins bound to those small mol­e­cules — some pre­vi­ous­ly un­known to the phar­ma part­ner.

“Take­da was re­al­ly hap­py with the re­sults be­cause this re­port helped them to — they can de­cide if they want to pur­sue oth­er in­di­ca­tions that cov­er oth­er tar­gets they didn’t know be­fore,” he said. “It al­so gave them (a) broad full view of the po­ten­tial tox­i­c­i­ty con­cerns down the road.”

It paved the way for the cur­rent col­lab­o­ra­tion, Cao said, which takes the same tech­nol­o­gy in a slight­ly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. The biotech will be tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing new tar­gets that are re­spon­si­ble for a spe­cif­ic dis­ease phe­no­type that Take­da pin­points as un­der­ly­ing a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion, or oth­er ail­ments in the fu­ture phas­es of the pact.

The undis­closed up­front cash, added to a pre-A round they’ve raised, would help fund Brid­Gene’s in­ter­nal pipeline of on­col­o­gy pro­grams, Cao added.

For Take­da, the al­liance marks the lat­est in a dis­cov­ery deal spree cov­er­ing every­thing from RNA-bind­ing small mol­e­cules and ri­bo­some drug test­ing ma­chines to CRISPR-screened cell ther­a­pies and LNP gene de­liv­ery.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Chris Gibson (Photo By Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion founders gin for­tunes as IPO back­ers show­er $436M on one of the biggest boasts in AI -- based on some very small deals

In the AI drug development world, boasting often comes with the territory. Yet few can rival Recursion when it comes to claiming the lead role in what company execs like to call the industrialization of drug development, with promises of continued exponential growth in the number of drugs it has in the pipeline.

On Friday, the Salt Lake City-based biotech translated its unicorn-sized boasts into a killer IPO, pricing more than 24 million shares at the high end of its range and bringing in $436 million — with a large chunk of that promised by some deep-pocket backers.

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Covid-19 vac­cine halt drags on, an FDA ap­point­ment at long last, the great CRO con­sol­i­da­tion, and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Conference season is upon us, and while we’d much prefer to be wandering down the hallways and presentation rooms in person, the team is ready to cover the most consequential data coming out of these scientific meetings. Get in touch early if you have news to share.

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Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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As­traZeneca-Alex­ion merg­er slides through FTC re­view af­ter sup­posed M&A crack­down pos­es no bar­ri­ers

The AstraZeneca-Alexion megamerger received a good sign Friday, despite warning signs of the tides turning against large M&A pharma deals.

US regulators at the FTC have cleared the acquisition for approval, AstraZeneca announced, all but signing off on the deal to go through once it officially closes in the third quarter. AstraZeneca originally said it was planning to buy out Alexion back in December for $39 billion.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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