As gene edit­ing ex­plodes, a new re­port from Gold­man says Chi­nese groups are seiz­ing the lead on CRISPR and CAR-T stud­ies

Con­trary to what you might be­lieve, bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies in the US are not the lead­ers in clin­i­cal tri­als us­ing gene edit­ing tech. While a slate of US/Eu­ro­pean pi­o­neers have been lin­ing up their first hu­man tri­als, in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Chi­na are al­ready well ahead in test­ing CRISPR-edit­ed cells in hu­mans, ac­cord­ing to a deep dive on gene ther­a­pies from Gold­man Sachs an­a­lyst Salveen Richter.

“As of the end of Feb­ru­ary 2018,” Richter and her team re­port­ed, “there were nine reg­is­tered clin­i­cal stud­ies test­ing CRISPR-edit­ed cells to treat var­i­ous can­cers and HIV in­fec­tion in Chi­na, vs. on­ly one study in the U.S. All of the stud­ies were ini­ti­at­ed / spon­sored by top-tier pub­lic hos­pi­tals across Chi­na, and >80 pa­tients were re­port­ed as be­ing treat­ed by these in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al genome med­i­cines.”

Last year alone, Richter adds, the Na­tion­al Nat­ur­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion of Chi­na pro­vid­ed fund­ing for more than 90 CRISPR projects — more than 270 over the last 4 years. With no reg­u­la­tions on these gene edit­ing projects, hos­pi­tals in Chi­na in par­tic­u­lar have been quick to ac­cel­er­ate their CRISPR work, a sit­u­a­tion that might change soon if Chi­na’s main drug agency steps in and ap­plies the brakes, as Gold­man ex­pects will hap­pen.

And Chi­nese in­ves­ti­ga­tors are al­ready ri­val­ing the US in the to­tal num­ber of CAR-T stud­ies that are be­ing done. As of Feb­ru­ary, Gold­man Sachs count­ed 153 CAR-T tri­als in Chi­na, com­pared to 164 in the US, 73 in Eu­rope and 56 in all of the rest of the world com­bined.

The one com­pa­ny fur­thest out in front is Leg­end Biotech­nol­o­gy, which J&J paid $350 mil­lion to part­ner with as it en­tered the glob­al race to de­vel­op new ther­a­pies in the wake of his­toric ap­provals for Kym­ri­ah (No­var­tis) and Yescar­ta (Gilead/Kite). And if these com­pa­nies and tri­als hit pay-dirt da­ta, as they promise to, Gold­man be­lieves that Chi­na will reap a con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit by sell­ing these ther­a­pies at a much low­er rate than the pi­o­neers on the mar­ket, spurring a sig­nif­i­cant amount of med­ical tourism.

What is this kind of mar­ket worth for the ri­vals look­ing to com­pete in it?

That de­pends on the sup­ply of pa­tients.

If your new genome med­i­cine ei­ther promis­es to cure a dis­ease or de­lay any fur­ther ther­a­py for a lengthy pe­ri­od of time, notes the Gold­man re­port, then your mar­ket could play out quick­ly as you race through the pa­tient pool that is avail­able. That’s what Gilead ex­pe­ri­enced when it came up with a pain­less cure for he­pati­tis C.

Not on­ly did the drugs from Gilead shrink the pool, Gold­man re­ports in a cold analy­sis of the num­bers, they al­so re­duced the num­ber of car­ri­ers present to keep spread­ing the dis­ease, fur­ther shrink­ing the mar­ket. From the re­port:

The po­ten­tial to de­liv­er “one shot cures” is one of the most at­trac­tive as­pects of gene ther­a­py, ge­net­i­cal­ly-en­gi­neered cell ther­a­py and gene edit­ing. How­ev­er, such treat­ments of­fer a very dif­fer­ent out­look with re­gard to re­cur­ring rev­enue ver­sus chron­ic ther­a­pies, par­tic­u­lar­ly in cer­tain dis­eases where it is pos­si­ble to cure a large pro­por­tion of the preva­lent pa­tient pool (or at least pre­vent an ad­di­tion­al dose from be­ing re­quired for an ex­tend­ed pe­ri­od). While this propo­si­tion car­ries tremen­dous val­ue for pa­tients and so­ci­ety, it could rep­re­sent a chal­lenge for genome med­i­cine de­vel­op­ers look­ing for sus­tained cash flow. Gilead is a case in point, where the suc­cess of its he­pati­tis C fran­chise has grad­u­al­ly ex­haust­ed the avail­able pool of treat­able pa­tients. 

The most lu­cra­tive dis­eases for these new cu­ra­tive ther­a­pies, Richter adds, would be big fields like he­mo­phil­ia or ar­eas where there’s a large sup­ply of new pa­tients each year — like can­cer. Spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy, which af­flicts a stan­dard set of in­fants each year, is al­so vi­able. 

That may not be the kind of math that bio­phar­ma ex­ecs like to dis­cuss in pub­lic, but it’s cer­tain­ly the kind of equa­tions they re­view care­ful­ly while de­cid­ing how to spend R&D bud­gets.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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