Am­gen bets on stem cell com­pa­ny For­tu­na Fix in $25M round

Am­gen’s ven­ture arm just made a bet on re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine for the first time. The phar­ma gi­ant pitched in to a new $25 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing round for Cana­di­an stem cell com­pa­ny For­tu­na Fix.

For­tu­na is work­ing on new ways to re­grow neur­al tis­sue dam­aged by de­gen­er­a­tion and trau­ma. With its tech­nol­o­gy, the com­pa­ny hopes to mim­ic the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Mex­i­can sala­man­der, known for its abil­i­ty to re­grow its own spinal cord, jaw, tail, skin and limbs — all with­out scar­ring.

Jan-Er­ic Ahlfors, For­tu­na Fix

The com­pa­ny says it’s re­pro­duced this phe­nom­e­na in test tubes by start­ing with reg­u­lar old mul­ti­po­tent stem cells, which can be tak­en from any tis­sue (hair, skin, bone mar­row, etc.) and re-en­gi­neered in­to neur­al stem cells. There’s a name for this kind of stem cell ther­a­py, but it’s a mouth­ful: au­tol­o­gous mul­ti­po­tent stem cells pro­duced by di­rect re­pro­gram­ming. The good thing about these stem cells is they don’t tend to spark tu­mor growth nor do they stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem — ؅two of the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing stem cell ther­a­pies.

In the­o­ry, such re­pro­grammed cells can be in­ject­ed in­to a pa­tient mul­ti­ple times, al­low­ing for a treat­ment reg­i­men that could ful­ly re­gen­er­ate the tis­sue in mind. For­tu­na is hop­ing its neur­al stem cells will re­gen­er­ate the brains of Parkin­son’s dis­ease pa­tients.

Re­grow­ing brain tis­sue in PD

PD pa­tients lack the brain chem­i­cal dopamine, which helps con­trol mus­cle move­ment. Neur­al stem cells have the abil­i­ty to make and re­place the dead and dy­ing dopamine-pro­duc­ing cells in pa­tients, re­plac­ing the miss­ing neu­ro­trans­mit­ter and re­vers­ing the symp­toms.

For­tu­na, found­ed in 2015, will use cash from the new fi­nanc­ing round to do Phase I/IIa clin­i­cal tri­als in PD as well as spinal cord in­jury.

For­tu­na’s CEO and CSO Jan-Er­ic Ahlfors said the com­pa­ny’s tech­nol­o­gy might soon de­liv­er stem cells that can “read­i­ly re­place lost neu­rons, do not re­quire im­mune sup­pres­sion, are eth­i­cal­ly sourced, ef­fi­ca­cious and ad­dress some of the largest un­met med­ical needs.” And Am­gen is will­ing to put up some cash to see if it works.

Am­gen’s first for­ay in­to cel­lu­lar re­gen­er­a­tion

Philip Tagari, Am­gen

This is Am­gen’s first in­vest­ment in re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, but the com­pa­ny’s long been in­ter­est­ed in treat­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion. The com­pa­ny part­nered with No­var­tis back in 2015 to de­vel­op a BACE in­hibitor to treat Alzheimer’s dis­ease. The mol­e­cule is cur­rent­ly in Phase III test­ing.

Now, two Am­gen VPs are tied to the in­vest­ment deal with For­tu­na. John Dun­lop, VP of neu­ro­science dis­cov­ery re­search at Am­gen, will sit on For­tu­na’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board. Philip Tagari, VP of ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery, will be a board ob­serv­er.

“This in­vest­ment in For­tu­na rep­re­sents Am­gen’s first for­ay in­to cel­lu­lar re­gen­er­a­tive re­search and un­der­scores our com­mit­ment to ad­vanc­ing nov­el neu­ro­science re­search for se­ri­ous brain dis­eases, such as Parkin­son’s,” Tagari said in a state­ment. “Re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine is one of the most ex­cit­ing fields of health care to­day, and we are de­light­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the ad­vance­ment of these in­no­v­a­tive so­lu­tions for pa­tients suf­fer­ing from se­vere neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases and neu­ro­trau­ma.”

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Moncef Slaoui, Getty Images

When will it end? Big Phar­ma's top vac­cine ex­pert at OWS of­fers a speedy time­line for a Covid-19 vac­cine — ei­ther be­fore or right af­ter the elec­tion

Moncef Slaoui hasn’t started making plans for his summer vacation next year. But he offers high odds that all Americans will be able to do that in the not too distant future.

In an interview with a pair of sympathetic podcasters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Slaoui provides an education to listeners on how any drug or vaccine can be sped through trials. And he leaves the door wide open to the notion that the leading vaccine developers can demonstrate efficacy and safety in a compelling fashion as early as October — or as late as the end of this year.

Levi Garraway, Roche CMO (Source: Genentech)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hands out a quick OK for po­ten­tial SMA block­buster ris­diplam, giv­ing Genen­tech and Roche a chance to chal­lenge ri­vals on the price

US regulators handed Roche and Genentech a big win Friday afternoon, one that has market-shaping potential for its high-priced rivals from Novartis and Biogen.

The FDA has green-lit the companies’ spinal muscular atrophy drug risdiplam, which will be marketed as Evrysdi in the US, for use in patients two months and older. It’s the first SMA drug that can be taken orally, as Biogen’s Spinraza is injected into the spine while Novartis’ Zolgensma is a gene therapy.

Per­cep­tive fields SPAC #3 as an­oth­er group of biotechs scoops up $364M in lat­est Nas­daq romp

There’s no sign that the windfall of cash dropping biotech’s way on Wall Street is abating. Three more biopharmas priced IPOs on Thursday and Friday morning, riding a historic boom with a $364 million payoff.

London-based biotech Freeline Therapeutics took home the lion’s share of the cash with $159 million after pricing 8,823,529 shares at $18 a pop. Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, of Cambridge, MA, raised $75 million with an offer of 5 million shares at $15 — right at the midpoint of its range. And Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp III, the third in a series from Perceptive, priced 13,000,000 shares at $10 per share.

Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Covid-19 roundup: Gates Foun­da­tion pours $150M in­to In­dia’s Serum In­sti­tute; Pfiz­er teams with Gilead on remde­sivir

By CEO and scion Adar Poonawalla’s estimation, the Serum Institute in India has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scaling up the unproven Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford for use in low and middle income countries. It’s meant taking on a risk that other companies, including AstraZeneca, have mitigated with huge amounts of government funding.

Now, for the first time, Poonawalla is getting some outside help. The Gates Foundation has agreed to pay the institute $150 million to supply 100 million vaccines to India and other emerging economies next year, Reuters reported. That includes both the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the one being developed by Novavax. Those vaccines will be available in 92 countries and be priced at $3 per dose.

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