As killer virus out­breaks hit un­prece­dent­ed lev­els, non­prof­it hands $37.5M to Themis to tack­le Las­sa/MERS vac­cines

A non­prof­it formed in the af­ter­math of the re­cent Ebo­la out­break is hand­ing an Aus­tri­an biotech $37.5 mil­lion to put two killer dis­eases on its vac­cine to-do list: Las­sa fever and MERS.

It’s the first deal signed since the 2017 launch of the non­prof­it, which calls it­self CEPI (pro­nounced “sep­py”) – short for the Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness In­no­va­tions. The group’s goal is to build a glob­al vac­cine de­vel­op­ment fund, de­vot­ed to ready­ing pan­dem­ic de­fens­es dur­ing peace­time. It was formed by the gov­ern­ments of Nor­way, Ger­many, In­dia, and Japan, along with the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, Well­come, and the World Eco­nom­ic Fo­rum.

The group hopes to raise $1 bil­lion for the fund, which it would dole out to wor­thy re­search ef­forts. They’ve al­ready raised $630 mil­lion.

This first in­fu­sion of cash is go­ing in tranch­es over a five-year pe­ri­od to Themis Bio­science, which has a plat­form tech based on the measles vac­cine that might be use­ful against mul­ti­ple virus­es.

These two in­fec­tious dis­eases are a high pri­or­i­ty for CEPI right now, and right­ly so. MERS, which hides out in camels and has been cir­cu­lat­ing the Mid­dle East since 2012, has killed a third of the peo­ple it’s in­fect­ed. And Las­sa fever, en­dem­ic to the same parts of Africa re­cent­ly hit by Ebo­la, is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pe­ri­od of un­prece­dent­ed out­break. Las­sa fever nor­mal­ly has a fa­tal­i­ty rate of 1%, but in the cur­rent Niger­ian out­break it is thought to be clos­er to 20%, ac­cord­ing to the CDC.

Richard Hatch­ett

“Es­tab­lish­ing our part­ner­ship with Themis rep­re­sents not on­ly an im­por­tant step in our jour­ney to­wards tack­ling these dis­eases, but al­so a break­through in how we can part­ner and work with vac­cine de­vel­op­ers when tra­di­tion­al mar­ket in­cen­tives for de­vel­op­ment have failed,” said CEPI’s CEO Richard Hatch­ett.

Themis’ CEO and founder Erich Tauber tells me there’s not enough fi­nan­cial up­side to tack­ling these dis­eases, which is why vac­cines aren’t be­ing de­vel­oped.

“The out­breaks oc­cur once every five or six years, and that’s not enough mar­ket push to get the vac­cines de­vel­oped,” Tauber said. “If a com­pa­ny like Themis went to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and asked for in­vest­ment to de­vel­op vac­cines for Las­sa or MERS, chances are no­body would pay us mon­ey to de­vel­op those vac­cines be­cause they are com­mer­cial risks.”

Erich Tauber

The mon­ey from CEPI will help bridge that gap. The com­pa­ny hopes the funds will take the com­pa­ny through Phase II, where de­vel­op­ment might end.

The hope, Tauber said, is to prove the vac­cines ef­fi­ca­cious in an­i­mal stud­ies and safe in large co­horts.

“But from there, the vac­cine will most like­ly have to be used on emer­gency rules,” Tauber said.

These two lat­est vac­cine projects will be added to Themis’ port­fo­lio, which in­cludes an ad­vanced pro­gram for a vac­cine against chikun­gun­ya virus, a mos­qui­to-trans­mit­ted dis­ease that can have de­bil­i­tat­ing long-term side ef­fects. That pro­gram is in Phase II tri­als in 600 pa­tients.

With its measles virus plat­form, Themis is al­so de­vel­op­ing vac­cines against Zi­ka, RSV, and norovirus, among oth­er ar­eas.

Im­age: Vi­ral dis­ease out­break. Shut­ter­stock

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.