Agenus touts blockchain tech to roll out new ‘dig­i­tal se­cu­ri­ty’ for its PD-1, but will it work?

Be­set with set­backs, a once cash-poor Agenus had some­thing to cheer late last year when be­he­moth Gilead signed on as a part­ner on up to five of its im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams. On Tues­day, the biotech of­fered in­vestors an in­trigu­ing pro­pos­al: fund the de­vel­op­ment of a sin­gle drug, while pre­serv­ing share­hold­er eq­ui­ty.

In per­haps the first in­stance of a bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny con­duct­ing such a ‘dig­i­tal se­cu­ri­ty’ of­fer­ing, Agenus said it was launch­ing a to­ken  de­signed to en­able qual­i­fied in­vestors to di­rect­ly in­vest in a sin­gle biotech prod­uct – in this case, the to­kens is­sued will rep­re­sent a por­tion of po­ten­tial fu­ture US sales of AGEN2034, Agenus’ late-stage an­ti-PD-1 an­ti­body.

Biren Amin

“I have nev­er seen this type of arrange­ment. I think there may be lim­i­ta­tions in terms of par­tic­i­pa­tion from in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors who may not be able to par­tic­i­pate,” Jef­feries’ Biren Amin, who cov­ers Agenus $AGEN, told End­points News.

The Agenus to­ken is pow­ered by blockchain tech­nol­o­gy, which was was in­vent­ed by an uniden­ti­fied de­vel­op­er in 2008 to pow­er Bit­coin, but is now used across a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions. Es­sen­tial­ly, it is a se­quence of blocks or groups of trans­ac­tions that are chained to­geth­er and dis­trib­uted among users, map­ping an un­al­ter­able record of trans­ac­tions that are not de­pen­dent on an ex­ter­nal au­thor­i­ty to val­i­date da­ta.

In­vestors will be el­i­gi­ble to pur­chase the Agenus’ to­kens un­der pre­ferred terms in the ini­tial stage of the of­fer­ing, which is slat­ed for mid-Feb­ru­ary. The Lex­ing­ton, MA-based com­pa­ny ex­pects to raise up to $100 mil­lion to de­vel­op and sell AGEN2034.

“Agenus an­tic­i­pates the in­dus­try will adopt this fi­nanc­ing mod­el as an at­trac­tive means of ob­tain­ing cap­i­tal in com­ing years. BEST (Agenus’ to­ken) is ex­pect­ed to lead to the emer­gence of a new mar­ket­place for as­set-spe­cif­ic se­cu­ri­ties pro­vid­ing in­vestors with unique fund­ing al­ter­na­tives and op­tions for man­ag­ing risk,” the can­cer drug de­vel­op­er said in a state­ment on Tues­day.

Brad Lon­car, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lon­car In­vest­ments which runs the Lon­car Can­cer Im­munother­a­py ETF, sug­gest­ed a num­ber of peo­ple in the in­dus­try were work­ing on such fund­ing arrange­ments.

Brad Lon­car at the US-Chi­na Bio­phar­ma In­no­va­tion and In­vest­ment Sum­mit in Shang­hai on Oc­to­ber 23, 2018; End­points News, Pharm­Cube

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion


“Set­ting aside the specifics of this Agenus PD-1, I do think the con­cept has po­ten­tial. It would al­low com­pa­nies to raise funds for sin­gle as­sets with­in their pipelines and for in­vestors to back in­di­vid­ual projects. It’s a very unique and ap­peal­ing con­cept.”

But the fresh ap­proach to fund­ing comes with fresh ques­tions. For in­stance, gov­er­nance. “These would all be in­di­vid­ual se­cu­ri­ties so how do you en­sure there is ap­pro­pri­ate in­vestor ed­u­ca­tion and trans­paren­cy through­out the drugs’ de­vel­op­ment?,” Lon­car said.

Then there is the ques­tion about liq­uid­i­ty. “These are like­ly to be small projects so it re­mains to be seen if these will be liq­uid as­sets that are priced ef­fi­cient­ly,” Lon­car not­ed, adding that if in­vestors elect to sell to­kens they will pre­sum­ably do so on the sec­ondary mar­ket like any oth­er to­ken.

There are a laun­dry list of oth­er hy­po­thet­i­cals to pon­der: since each to­ken will rep­re­sent a slice of fu­ture US sales of AGEN2034, what hap­pens if the drug is re­ject­ed? In con­trast, if the drug is ap­proved, what im­pact does this strat­e­gy have on any po­ten­tial part­ner­ships Agenus may want to ink in or­der to com­mer­cial­ize?

End­points has con­tact­ed Agenus for com­ment.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio Therapeutics CEO

An­ti­body leg­end Till­man Gern­gross is el­bow­ing his way in­to the Covid-19 R&D cru­sade: 'I don’t see this end­ing any­time soon'

One of the most influential — and outspoken — scientists at work in the field of antibody discovery is jumping into the frenzied race to create new therapeutics to treat and prevent Covid-19. And he’s operating with the conviction that the current outbreak now once again spreading like wildfire will create plenty of demand for what he has in mind.

Dartmouth professor and Adimab CEO Tillman Gerngross tells me he’s raised $50 million from a group of close VCs to spin out a new company — Adagio Therapeutics — with a full C-suite team assembled to hire up a staff and keep rolling toward the clinic.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (Moderna via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: NI­AID and Mod­er­na spell out a 'ro­bust' im­mune re­sponse in PhI coro­n­avirus vac­cine test — but big ques­tions re­main to be an­swered

The NIAID and Moderna have spelled out positive Phase I safety and efficacy data for their Covid-19 vaccine mRNA-1273 — highlighting the first full, clear sketch of evidence that back-to-back jabs at the dose selected for Phase III routinely produced a swarm of antibodies to the virus that exceeded levels seen in convalescent patients — typically in multiples indicating a protective response.

Moderna execs say plainly that this first stage of research produced exactly the kind of efficacy they hoped to see in humans, with a manageable safety profile.

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Trans­port Sim­u­la­tion Test­ing for Your Ther­a­py is the Best Way to As­sure FDA Ex­pe­dit­ed Pro­gram Ap­proval

Modality Solutions is an ISO:9001-registered biopharmaceutical cold chain engineering firm with unique transport simulation capabilities that support accelerated regulatory approval for biologics and advanced therapeutic medicinal products (ATMP). Our expertise combines traditional validation engineering approaches with regulatory knowledge into a methodology tailored for the life sciences industry. We provide insight and execution for the challenges faced in your cold chain logistics network.

GSK’s Shin­grix leader Guil­laume Pfe­fer has jumped on board Flag­ship to helm a biotech hy­brid as Afeyan’s lat­est CEO-part­ner

After spending 4 years in a senior post with GlaxoSmithKline’s star team positioning Shingrix for a blockbuster approval, Guillaume Pfefer is headed back to the biotech world — in style.

Pfefer has signed on to join Noubar Afeyan’s busy group of partners at Flagship, and he’s taking the helm of an upstart — which today is being merged with another Flagship startup — with some grand plans of its own. The announcement this morning notes that Pfefer will run Kintai Therapeutics, one of the grads of the Flagship labs.

Norbert Bischofberger, Kronos CEO

Gilead­'s ex-R&D chief Bischof­berg­er heads back to the biotech gi­ant to pick up a pair of late-stage drugs that had been put aside

Norbert Bischofberger knows entospletinib well.

Back during his long, blockbuster run as head of R&D at Gilead, researchers had once held some high hopes for this drug. But to make it work, he and the team felt it would need a new companion diagnostic to identify patients. There was talk of a combo approach to give it more punch. But the market was small, making them wonder if it would be worth going through a lengthy development cycle to get it through a pivotal.

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Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Rus­sia hack­ers tar­get US,UK vac­cine and drug re­searchers; Fau­ci fires back at White House cam­paign to un­der­mine him

Russia has tried to steal Covid-19 vaccine and therapeutics researcher from pharmaceutical and academic institutions in the US, UK and Canada, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said Thursday.

The NCSC said that hacking attempts came from a group known as APT129, also known as also known as ‘Cozy Bear,’ that “almost certainly operate as part of Russian intelligence services.” The Canadian Communication Security Establishment, US Department for Homeland Security, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, and the National Security Agency shared the assessment, the NCSC said.

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John Furey, Imvax CEO

A neu­ro­sur­geon spent the past 30 years de­vel­op­ing a neoanti­gen tu­mor vac­cine. Now he has $112M for a piv­otal test

As a neurosurgeon, David Andrews knew there wasn’t much he could do for his glioma patients after resecting — rarely fully — their tumor. Even with the best treatment and care available, median overall survival is just somewhere between 14 and 16 months.

Then in the 1990s, his mentor at Thomas Jefferson University introduced him to Renato Baserga, a pathologist who had been studying the effect of using antisense oligonucleotide to knock out the insulin-like growth factor type 1 receptor in cancers. As IGF-R1 drives tumor growth and metastasis, the preclinical reasoning went, implanting a molecule targeting the receptor together with the tumor material near lymph nodes can slow down the spread of the cancer.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D and lead­ing the fight against Covid-19? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' spe­cial re­port

One of the many inequalities the pandemic has laid bare is the gender imbalance in biomedical research. A paper examining Covid-19 research authorship wondered out loud: Where are the women?

It’s a question that echoes beyond our current times. In the biopharma world, not only are women under-represented in R&D roles (particularly at higher levels), their achievements and talents could also be undermined by stereotypes and norms of leadership styles. The problem is even more dire for women of color.

The $1B Mer­ck-Bay­er drug that di­vid­ed car­di­ol­o­gists in March gets pri­or­i­ty re­view

Three months after Merck published in the New England Journal of Medicine data that left doctors and investors divided over just how well its experimental heart drug worked, the FDA has handed that drug priority review. A decision is now due by January 20, 2021.

Merck first announced the drug, known as vericiguat, as a Phase III success last November. In 2016, Merck had paid $1 billion upfront for US rights to the Bayer-developed drug. Early projections foresaw a few hundred million a year in sales, but the unspecified late-stage success raised the possibility for far more. After all, Novartis’s flagship heart drug, Entresto, was earning $1.7 billion per year and was expected to reach up to $4 billion in annual sales.