Al­ler­gan/Ed­i­tas fi­nal­ly kick off CRISPR tri­al — mark­ing first in vi­vo test of the gene-edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy

More three years af­ter Al­ler­gan $AGN dipped its toes in­to the world of CRISPR/Cas9 gene edit­ing by en­list­ing Ed­i­tas $ED­IT as a part­ner — the com­pa­nies are now off to the races with a tri­al in pa­tients with a rare eye dis­ease.

This tri­al marks the first in­stance of us­ing the tech­nol­o­gy to ed­it DNA with­in the body.

Mean­while, part­ners Ver­tex $VRTX and CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics $CR­SP kick­start­ed a tri­al ear­li­er this year that em­ployed the tech­nol­o­gy to en­gi­neer a gene-edit­ed stem cell ther­a­py to treat pa­tients suf­fer­ing from se­vere he­mo­glo­binopathies, a group of blood dis­or­ders. Sang­amo Ther­a­peu­tics $SG­MO has test­ed its old­er zinc fin­ger tech­nol­o­gy in pa­tients with two lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­eases, but a set­back dif­fused en­thu­si­asm for the pro­gram — but the com­pa­ny bounced back with en­cour­ag­ing ear­ly da­ta on its he­mo­phil­ia pro­gram part­nered with Pfiz­er.

Al­ler­gan and Ed­i­tas had orig­i­nal­ly ex­pect­ed to file an ap­pli­ca­tion to test their ther­a­py in hu­mans by the end of 2017, but man­u­fac­tur­ing trou­ble pushed that time­line to Oc­to­ber 2018. To get the FDA en­dorse­ment, Ed­i­tas fought off a stiff patent chal­lenge — and like its peers — bat­ted back per­sis­tent ques­tions about off-tar­get ef­fects to ad­e­quate­ly con­vince the reg­u­la­tor it was armed and ready to make the jump from an­i­mal stud­ies to hu­mans.

The tri­al, chris­tened Bril­liance, will eval­u­ate their ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py AGN-151587 (ED­IT-101) for the treat­ment of Leber con­gen­i­tal amau­ro­sis 10 (LCA10), a rare, in­her­it­ed form of blind­ness caused by mu­ta­tions in the CEP290 gene.

LCA is a group of in­her­it­ed reti­nal de­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders caused by mu­ta­tions in at least 18 dif­fer­ent genes, and are con­sid­ered the most com­mon cause of in­her­it­ed child­hood blind­ness, oc­cur­ring in two to three per 100,000 live births glob­al­ly. The most com­mon form of the dis­ease, LCA10, ac­counts for ap­prox­i­mate­ly 20% to 30% of all LCA pa­tients.

Ka­trine Bosley Ed­i­tas

Spark Ther­a­peu­tics’ ap­proved gene ther­a­py Lux­tur­na, which de­liv­ered via a vi­ral vec­tor, is tai­lored to treat an­oth­er rare eye dis­ease due to mu­ta­tions in both copies of the RPE65 gene. The FDA nod sparked Roche’s $4.3 bil­lion takeover of the com­pa­ny, al­though the deal is yet to be con­sum­mat­ed.

The Bril­liance study is set to en­roll 18 pa­tients — and in­clude up to five co­horts and eval­u­ate three dos­es of the drug. Each pa­tient will re­ceive a sin­gle dose of AGN-151587 ad­min­is­tered via an eye in­jec­tion aimed at pho­tore­cep­tor cells in the reti­na.

Ed­i­tas’ se­nior team has seen up­heaval in the past year. In Jan­u­ary, CEO Ka­trine Bosley, who led the com­pa­ny for near­ly five years, an­nounced her ex­it and sev­ered ties with the board, with­out ex­pla­na­tion. Chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer An­drew Hack an­nounced his de­ci­sion to leave by March, back in De­cem­ber 2018, and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Ger­ald Cox jumped ship at the end of last year.

Be­set by set­backs, Al­ler­gan’s Brent Saun­ders made the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion by agree­ing to be swal­lowed by Ab­b­Vie $AB­BV in an eye-wa­ter­ing $63 bil­lion deal ear­li­er this year. The US drug­mak­er was swayed by the po­ten­tial of Al­ler­gan’s block­buster Botox fran­chise to sta­bi­lize its rev­enue as its $20 bil­lion cash cow Hu­mi­ra hur­tles to­wards a patent cliff in the Unit­ed States.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Credit: AP Images

Covid-19 roundup: BAR­DA sup­ports Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed with big $628M con­tract to ser­vice Amer­i­ca's vac­cine pro­duc­tion needs

Another BARDA contract designed to service America’s Covid-19 vaccine needs has been deployed.

The White House-led initiative designed to bankroll development to bring a vaccine to the American public by this fall — Operation Warp Speed — has via BARDA handed a meaty contract to the maker of an FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine to open up its manufacturing apparatus to shore up production of Covid-19 vaccines.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

The big mon­ey: Poised to make drug R&D his­to­ry, a Chi­na biotech un­veils uni­corn rac­ing am­bi­tions in a bid to raise $350M-plus on Nas­daq

Almost exactly three years after Shanghai-based Legend came out of nowhere to steal the show at ASCO with jaw-dropping data on their BCMA-targeted CAR-T for multiple myeloma, the little player with Big Pharma connections is taking a giant step toward making it big on Wall Street. And this time they want to seal the deal on a global rep after staking out a unicorn valuation in what’s turned out to be a bull market for biotech IPOs — in the middle of a pandemic.

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