Adam Keeney (NodThera)

As NL­RP3 play­ers head for first clin­i­cal face-off, No­vo, Sanofi fu­el trans-At­lantic con­tender with $55M

In the rel­a­tive short his­to­ry of in­flam­ma­some re­search, Adam Keeney sees two time points mark­ing ma­jor break­throughs: the ear­ly 2000s, when the role of in­flam­ma­somes as a ma­jor in­nate im­mu­ni­ty node was elu­ci­dat­ed; and 2015, when sci­en­tists ob­served that an old Pfiz­er com­pound they thought were block­ing IL-1 ac­tu­al­ly tar­get­ed NL­RP3. Keeney’s biotech, NodThera, was found­ed the year af­ter along­side sev­er­al oth­ers to cre­ate its own su­pe­ri­or small mol­e­cule drugs.

“It was a rel­a­tive­ly good NL­RP3 in­hibitor, just not a good drug in terms of PK and PD — it need­ed to be giv­en 3, 4 times a day at very high dos­es — but it is a good tool com­pound,” the CEO told End­points News.

Hav­ing made some break­throughs on the chem­istry side on the back of $40 mil­lion in Se­ries A cash, NodThera is now ready to har­vest Phase I da­ta on its lead com­pound, push a sec­ond one to­ward the clin­ic, and eval­u­ate sev­er­al more, all based on the same start­ing point.

Nan­na Lüneborg

No­vo Ven­tures is lead­ing the $55 mil­lion fund­ing, with both new in­vestors (Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments and Sanofi Ven­tures) and old sup­port­ers (5AM Ven­tures, F-Prime Cap­i­tal, Sofinno­va Part­ners and found­ing in­vestor Ep­i­darex Cap­i­tal) chim­ing in.

If noth­ing else, NodThera is “cer­tain­ly equal” to elite peers like IFM, In­fla­zome, Roche’s Je­cure and Olatec, said No­vo Ven­tures part­ner Nan­na Lüneborg. But giv­en the broad ap­pli­ca­tion of this mech­a­nism of ac­tion in in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions, the top team — with Keeney lead­ing a grow­ing clin­i­cal group in Boston, CSO Alan Watt man­ning the head­quar­ters in Cam­bridge, UK and a lab in Seat­tle, WA — is per­haps a more im­por­tant part of the bet.

While No­vo had known NodThera since its found­ing and con­sid­ered NL­RP3 a wor­thy tar­get, the firm wait­ed un­til the C-suite was in place and the pipeline was more ma­ture.

“It’s not just about the mol­e­cules here, it’s very much about find­ing a clever clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment path as well,” she said.

With quite a so­phis­ti­cat­ed un­der­stand­ing of how the tar­get in­ter­acts chem­i­cal­ly, Keeney said, NodThera al­so boasts of a plat­form that al­lows its sci­en­tists to de­sign drugs with new prop­er­ties to cater to dif­fer­ent dis­eases. The sec­ond can­di­date, for ex­am­ple, makes for a good neu­ro drug be­cause of its abil­i­ty to pen­e­trate the blood-brain bar­ri­er.

The com­ing months, though, will be ded­i­cat­ed to fin­ish­ing the healthy vol­un­teer study of NT-0167, the lead drug, through clin­i­cal proof of con­cept.

“It’s a very rich, bio­mark­er-dri­ven Phase I pro­gram that I think will build con­fi­dence in the mol­e­cule (and) that will have dose se­lec­tion da­ta avail­able for it to launch in­to a com­pre­hen­sive clin­i­cal pro­gram,” he said.

The re­sult­ing da­ta could po­si­tion NodThera for a pub­lic of­fer­ing, per­haps to be pre­ced­ed by a crossover round — hope­ful­ly one where due dili­gence and oth­er dis­cus­sions aren’t done in a pan­dem­ic-strick­en, locked-down world.

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In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

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Ted Love, Global Blood Therapeutics CEO

Up­dat­ed: Pfiz­er scoops up Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics and its sick­le cell ther­a­pies for $5.4B

Pfizer is dropping $5.4 billion to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics.

Just ahead of the weekend, word got out that Pfizer was close to clinching a $5 billion buyout — albeit with other potential buyers still at the table. The pharma giant, flush with cash from Covid-19 vaccine sales, apparently got out on top.

The deal immediately swells Pfizer’s previously tiny sickle cell disease portfolio from just a Phase I program to one with an approved drug, Oxbryta, plus a whole pipeline that, if all approved, the company believes could make for a $3 billion franchise at peak.

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Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

De­spite falling Covid-19 sales, BioN­Tech main­tains '22 sales guid­ance

While Pfizer raked in almost $28 billion last quarter, its Covid-19 vaccine partner BioNTech reported a rise in total dose orders but a drop in sales.

The German biotech reported over $3.2 billion in revenue in Q2 on Monday, down from more than $6.7 billion in Q1, in part due to falling Covid sales. While management said last quarter that they anticipated a Covid sales drop — CEO Uğur Şahin said at the time that “the pandemic situation is still very much uncertain” — Q2 sales still missed consensus by 14%.

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Anna Protopapas, Mersana CEO

In $1.36B biobuck deal with GSK, Mer­sana touts 'biggest pre­clin­i­cal ADC deal ever'

Days after Enhertu reeled in another FDA nod, with the first-ever green light for HER2-low breast cancer, another antibody drug conjugate biotech claims it has secured the largest preclinical ADC pact to date for a single asset.

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo made waves with their nearly $7 billion collaboration back in spring 2019, but at that point, Enhertu was already nearing the FDA’s doors with clinical data. The latest ADC tie-up to enter the biopharma fray centers around a preclinical asset, Mersana Therapeutics’ XMT-2056.

FDA commissioner Rob Califf (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

With drug pric­ing al­most done, Con­gress looks to wrap up FDA user fee leg­is­la­tion

The Senate won’t return from its summer recess until Sept. 6, but when it does, it officially has 18 business days to finalize the reauthorization of the FDA user fee programs for the next 5 years, or else thousands of drug and biologics reviewers will be laid off and PDUFA dates will vanish in the interim.

FDA commissioner Rob Califf recently sent agency staff a memo explaining how, “Our latest estimates are that we have carryover for PDUFA [Prescription Drug User Fee Act], the user fee funding program that will run out of funding first, to cover only about 5 weeks into the next fiscal year.”

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (David Zorrakino/Europa Press via AP Images)

As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi Sankyo sprint to mar­ket af­ter FDA clears En­her­tu in just two weeks

Regulators didn’t keep AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo waiting long at all for their latest Enhertu approval.

The partners pulled a win on Friday in HER2-low breast cancer patients who’ve already failed on chemotherapy, just two weeks after submitting a supplemental BLA. While this isn’t the FDA’s fastest approval — Bristol Myers Squibb won an OK for its blockbuster checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo in just five days back in March — it comes well ahead of Enhertu’s original Q4 PDUFA date.

David Reese, Amgen R&D chief

UP­DAT­ED: In a fresh dis­ap­point­ment, Am­gen spot­lights a ma­jor safe­ty is­sue with KRAS com­bo

Amgen had hoped that its latest study matching its landmark KRAS G12C drug Lumakras with checkpoint inhibitors would open up its treatment horizons and expand its commercial potential. Instead, the combo spurred safety issues that blunted efficacy and forced the pharma giant to alter course on its treatment strategy, once again disappointing analysts who have been tracking the drug’s faltering sales and limited therapeutic reach.

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Bernhardt Zeiher, outgoing Astellas CMO (Astellas)

Q&A: Astel­las' re­tir­ing head of de­vel­op­ment re­flects on gene ther­a­py deaths

For anyone who’s been following discussions about the safety alarms surrounding the adeno-associated viruses (AAV) commonly used to deliver gene therapy, Astellas should be a familiar name.

The Japanese pharma — which bought out Audentes Therapeutics near the end of 2019 and later built a gene therapy unit around the acquisition — rocked the field when it reported three patient deaths in a trial testing AT132, the lead program from Audentes designed to treat a rare muscle disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy (XLMTM).

When the company restarted the trial, it adjusted the dose and instituted a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But tragically, the first patient to receive the new regimen died just weeks after administration. The therapy remains under clinical hold, and just weeks ago, Astellas flagged another safety-related hold for a separate gene therapy candidate. In the process of investigating the deaths, the company has also taken flak about the way it disclosed information.

Big questions remain — questions that can have big implications about the future of AAV gene therapies.

Bernhardt Zeiher did not imagine any of it when he first joined Astellas as the therapeutic area leader in inflammation, immunology and infectious diseases. But his ascent to chief medical officer and head of development coincided almost exactly with Astellas’ big move into gene therapy, putting him often in the driver’s seat to grapple with the setbacks.

As Zeiher prepares to retire next month after a 12-year tenure — leaving the unfinished tasks to his successor, a seasoned cancer drug developer — he chatted with Endpoints News, in part, to discuss the effort to understand what happened, lessons learned and the criticism along the way.

The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Endpoints: I want to also ask you a bit about the gene therapy efforts you’ve been working on. Astellas has really been at the forefront of discovering the safety concerns associated with AAV gene therapy. What’s that been like for you?

Zeiher: Well, I have to admit, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. We acquired Audentes. Huge amount of enthusiasm. What we saw with AT132 — that was the lead program in XLMTM — was just remarkable efficacy. I mean, kids who went from being on ventilators, not able to eat for themselves, sit up, do things like that, to off ventilators, walking, you know, really — one investigator called it this Lazarus-like effect. It was just really dramatic efficacy. And then to have the safety events that occurred. So they actually occurred within that first year of the acquisition. So we had the three patient deaths. Me and my organization became very, very much involved. In fact, Ed Conner, who had been the chief medical officer, he left after some of the deaths, but I stepped in as the kind of acting chief medical officer, we had another chief medical officer who was involved, and then we had a fourth death, and I became acting again for a period of time.

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Steve Paul, Karuna Therapeutics CEO (Third Rock)

Karuna's schiz­o­phre­nia drug pass­es a close­ly-watched PhI­II test, will head to FDA in mid-2023

An investigational pill that combines a former Eli Lilly CNS compound with an overactive bladder drug was better than placebo at reducing a scale of symptoms experienced by patients with schizophrenia in a Phase III trial.

Karuna Therapeutics’ drug passed the primary goal in EMERGENT-2, the Boston biotech said early Monday morning, alongside quarterly earnings. The study is the first of Karuna’s four Phase III clinical trials to read out in schizophrenia and will provide the backbone to the biotech’s first drug approval application, slated for mid-2023.

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