Am­i­cus blue­prints growth plans for Philly-based gene ther­a­py group; Cash-strapped Com­pu­gen re­struc­tures, cuts 35 staffers

→ As Roche puts down its foot in Philadel­phia as the base for its bud­ding gene ther­a­py op­er­a­tions built around new sub­sidiary Spark Ther­a­peu­tics, Am­i­cus $FOLD is blue­print­ing its own gene ther­a­py group in the city.

Jeff Castel­li

Am­i­cus first made its for­ay in­to gene ther­a­py via the ac­qui­si­tion of Ce­lenex, which came with 10 pro­grams in neu­ro­log­ic lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­or­ders from Bat­ten dis­ease to Tay Sachs. Short­ly there­after, the rare dis­ease spe­cial­ist teamed up with James Wil­son at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia to ad­vance gene ther­a­py treat­ments for Pompe dis­ease, Fab­ry dis­ease, CD­KL5 de­fi­cien­cy and one oth­er undis­closed rare meta­bol­ic dis­or­der.

When com­plet­ed lat­er this year, its new gene ther­a­py cen­ter — which will al­so be its new glob­al R&D hub — will take up 75,000 square feet in uCi­ty Square, a short walk away from Wil­son’s lab. Jeff Castel­li, chief port­fo­lio of­fi­cer and now head of gene ther­a­py, will even­tu­al­ly lead a team of 200 at the fa­cil­i­ty along­side CSO Hung Do.

→ An­oth­er drug de­vel­op­er — Anaveon — is work­ing on an im­proved ver­sion of an IL-2 sans the tox­i­c­i­ty that has stymied the use of the orig­i­nal, Pro­leukin. The Swiss biotech, found­ed in late 2017 and spun out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Zurich, has won the back­ing of Syn­cona and No­var­tis in a CHF 35 mil­lion (rough­ly $35 mil­lion) Se­ries A round, and has big am­bi­tions for its drug, aim­ing for broad use in on­col­o­gy: as a cell ther­a­py, vac­cine, check­point in­hibitor and in com­bi­na­tion with ra­dio­ther­a­py. Syn­cona — a UK-based in­vest­ment firm that counts The Well­come Trust (al­so a founder) and Can­cer Re­search UK as its in­vestors — has al­so tak­en 47% stake in Anaveon.

→ Strapped for cash to com­plete an ex­pand­ed Phase I im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­gram, Com­pu­gen is cut­ting in­to its 100-per­son work­force and con­sol­i­dat­ing all op­er­a­tions in its Is­rael lo­ca­tion. Around 35 em­ploy­ees are be­ing laid off, most­ly in R&D and pre­sum­ably US-based. The de­ci­sion, which is ex­pect­ed to ex­tend the com­pa­ny’s cash run­way through mid-2020 by sav­ing up to $10 mil­lion per year, is a re­sult of a strate­gic re­view fol­low­ing two dis­cov­ery part­ner­ships with Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and As­traZeneca, says CEO Anat Co­hen-Dayag.

Pur­due Phar­ma sub­sidiary Im­bri­um Ther­a­peu­tics has en­list­ed Tetra­Ge­net­ics in a quest to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op non-opi­oid, ion-chan­nel an­ti­body ther­a­pies for chron­ic pain. Fea­tur­ing a $25 mil­lion up­front and biobucks up to $248 mil­lion, the deal comes as Pur­due is en­gulfed in a po­lit­i­cal storm for its role in the opi­oid epi­dem­ic.

→ An an­ti-ag­ing start­up called Sam­sara Ther­a­peu­tics — fo­cused on screen­ing for small mol­e­cules that ex­tend healthy lifes­pan across species — has se­cured undis­closed seed fund­ing from the ag­ing-fo­cused VC Apol­lo Ven­tures. The up­start, which has a part­ner­ship with Evotec, has de­buted with a pa­per in Na­ture, char­ac­ter­iz­ing the life-ex­tend­ing ef­fects of a nat­ur­al mol­e­cule de­rived from a Japan­ese herb called ashita­ba con­sumed on the is­land of Ok­i­nawa, which hosts the great­est num­ber of su­per­cente­nar­i­ans. It is al­so the first time Apol­lo has not just pro­vid­ed seed fund­ing to one of its port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, but is al­so help­ing build the com­pa­ny by pro­vid­ing the full sci­en­tif­ic team.

Mallinck­rodt has inked a re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ger­many’s Tran­sim­mune to un­cov­er the mech­a­nism of ac­tion and po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions of pho­to­phere­sis, the method of treat­ing blood with ul­tra­vi­o­let light that un­der­lies Mallinck­rodt’s Ther­akos plat­form. With Tran­sim­mune’s ex­per­tise in im­munother­a­py, the part­ners are hop­ing to find new ev­i­dence that pho­to­phere­sis can work in graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease or­gan trans­plant re­jec­tion and au­toim­mune dis­eases oth­er than cu­ta­neous T- cell lym­phoma, for which the treat­ment is al­ready ap­proved.

→ Hav­ing failed to win over in­vestors with its spin on some mid-stage can­cer vac­cine da­ta and seen its stock ham­mered in the months since, Sel­l­as is now plead­ing for help. The re­view of strate­gic al­ter­na­tives, as the com­pa­ny calls it, cov­ers every­thing from a sale, re­verse merg­er, fi­nanc­ing to fund­ed part­ner­ship. Mean­while, Sel­l­as still has a Phase III planned for gal­in­pepimut-S, which it’s al­so test­ing in an ear­ly tri­al in com­bi­na­tion with Mer­ck’s Keytru­da


With con­tri­bu­tion by Na­tal­ie Grover.

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.