Al­con takes a new look at oph­thalmic phar­ma space and mar­ket­ing, post No­var­tis spin­out and raft of ac­qui­si­tions

When Al­con eye care spun out of No­var­tis as an in­de­pen­dent com­pa­ny, the oph­thal­mol­o­gy phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals busi­ness stayed at the Big Phar­ma. For Al­con, though, it was an “ob­vi­ous” gap in its eye care and eye health ex­per­tise, so it went out and be­gan ac­quir­ing and build­ing out a pre­scrip­tion eye drug port­fo­lio.

Now four years af­ter a hand­ful of ac­qui­si­tions — in­clud­ing a $770 mil­lion deal last Au­gust for Aerie Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals with two eye pre­scrip­tion meds plus a late-stage dry eye dis­ease can­di­date — Al­con is step­ping out with new mar­ket­ing around its grow­ing phar­ma port­fo­lio.

This week, the com­pa­ny is rolling out new con­tent and aware­ness work to high­light the need for ear­ly di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of glau­co­ma.

Ian Bell

“We think of our­selves as an oph­thalmic com­pa­ny,” said Ian Bell, pres­i­dent of glob­al busi­ness and in­no­va­tion. “We’re the lead­ers in most of the mar­kets we op­er­ate in — our con­tact lens port­fo­lio, our dry eye port­fo­lio, our oph­thalmic surgery equip­ment. But we had kind of stepped away from the phar­ma space be­cause we got ac­quired by No­var­tis. … It was one of the ob­vi­ous ar­eas that we weren’t in as an oph­thalmic com­pa­ny and we’ve been look­ing for a way back in to uti­lize our ex­per­tise and build on that with Aerie em­ploy­ees and its R&D par­tic­u­lar­ly to get us back in that space that makes a lot of sense.”

Al­con’s glau­co­ma ef­fort in­cludes a new video on its web­site and so­cial me­dia posts on In­sta­gram, Face­book and LinkedIn en­cour­ag­ing ear­ly di­ag­noses and pro­fes­sion­al care, linked to an eye doc­tor lo­ca­tor tool.

Is Bell con­cerned about a fu­ture where Al­con drugs would com­pete with No­var­tis? Not re­al­ly, he said. No­var­tis has sig­naled pre­scrip­tion oph­thal­mol­o­gy is no longer a key pri­or­i­ty — it sold off five pre­scrip­tion eye drugs last year to Har­row — and may ac­tu­al­ly rep­re­sent an ad­van­tage for Al­con.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing about it is we see (No­var­tis) step­ping away and Al­ler­gan got ac­quired by Ab­b­Vie so less of a fo­cus for them, so there’s pos­si­bly a mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ty there. We kind of like our odds in that space as well. We’re in­ter­est­ed in prod­ucts that could have rev­enues of a cou­ple hun­dred mil­lion where­as Big Phar­ma is look­ing at $1 bil­lion. There may be a sweet spot for us where we’re able to ac­quire a few of those types of mol­e­cules and po­ten­tial­ly some R&D ca­pa­bil­i­ty that goes with it.”

Al­con’s eye care pro­fes­sion­al cus­tomers are on board, Bell said, adding that cus­tomers agree that Al­con’s ex­per­tise in the eye space and “un­der­stand­ing the needs of cus­tomers and help­ing meet those for years” is its hall­mark. His goal? Work­ing to “ap­ply that back in­to the phar­ma space.”

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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See­los Ther­a­peu­tics 'tem­porar­i­ly' stops study in rare neu­ro dis­or­der for busi­ness rea­sons

Microcap biotech Seelos Therapeutics is halting enrollment of its study in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (also known as Machado-Joseph disease) because of “financial considerations,” and in order to focus on other studies, the company said today, adding that the pause would be temporary.

The study will continue with the patients who have already enrolled, and the data from them will be used to decide whether to continue enrolling others in the future.

Alec­tor cuts 11% of work­force as it dou­bles down on late-stage neu­ro pro­grams part­nered with GSK, Ab­b­Vie

A month after revealing plans to concentrate on its late-stage immuno-neurology pipeline, Alector is trimming its headcount by 11%.

The layoffs will impact around 30 employees across the organization, the company disclosed in an SEC filing, adding that the plan will “better align the company’s resources” with the new strategy. With $712.9 million in cash, cash equivalents and investments as of the end of 2022, Alector believes the reserves will now get it through 2025.

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Hugo Peris, Spiral Therapeutics CEO

Hear­ing-fo­cused biotech grabs trio of pro­grams from Oton­o­my's fire sale

Otonomy may be shutting down, but the lessons learned there will live on at another biotech working on new treatments for hearing loss.

San Francisco-based Spiral Therapeutics has bought certain assets related to three of Otonomy’s programs, ranging from data, patent rights, and know-how to inventory. That includes data around Otonomy’s twice-failed lead program, OTO-104 (Otividex), a sustained-exposure formulation of dexamethasone.

Boehringer re­ports ro­bust sales led by type 2 di­a­betes and pul­monary drugs, promis­es more to come high­light­ing obe­si­ty

Boehringer Ingelheim reported human pharma sales of €18.5 billion on Wednesday, led by type 2 diabetes and heart failure drug Jardiance and pulmonary fibrosis med Ofev. Jardiance sales reached €5.8 billion, growing 39% year over year, while Ofev took in €3.2 billion, notching its own 20.6% annual jump.

However, Boehringer is also looking ahead with its pipeline, estimating “In the next seven years the company expects about 20 regulatory approvals in human pharma.”

FDA ap­proves Nar­can opi­oid over­dose re­ver­sal spray for over-the-counter sale

The FDA today approved Emergent BioSolutions’ Narcan brand naloxone nasal spray for over-the-counter sales. The nod was expected and comes on the heels of a unanimous 19-0 advisory committee vote in favor of approval last month.

The move to OTC means the opioid overdose reversal agent will now be available on grocery, convenience and gas stations shelves, as well as potentially for purchase online.

Sally Susman, Pfizer EVP and chief corporate affairs officer

Q&A: Pfiz­er cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief Sal­ly Sus­man dis­cuss­es book craft­ed in pan­dem­ic and per­son­al lessons

From the political arena to the finance and beauty industries to pharmaceuticals, Pfizer’s Sally Susman has broken barriers, stereotypes and conventions. And now the chief communicator is “Breaking Through,” the title of her first book about effective and innovative communications launching today. The full official title is “Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World.”

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