Astel­las re­joins the au­toim­mune an­ti­body craze with Pan­dion part­ner­ship

Ken­ji Ya­sukawa Astel­las

Over a year ago, Astel­las CEO Ken­ji Ya­sukawa an­nounced a large R&D re­struc­ture: 600 cut jobs, mul­ti­ple re­search sub­sidiaries shut down, and a re­jig­gered ear­ly pipeline ap­proach cen­tered on so-called “fo­cus ar­eas.” Each fo­cus area was de­tailed briefly in a re­port they re­leased, along with how they’d reach the ther­a­py.

But one sub-fo­cus area looked dif­fer­ent. Rather than list the fea­tures of their tech­nol­o­gy, the space be­low au­to-an­ti­bod­ies (a form of au­toim­mune dis­or­der) said sim­ply “de­vel­op­ment of new plat­form.”

Astel­las ap­pears to have found that new plat­form, or at least part of it. They’ve an­nounced a deal worth po­ten­tial­ly $795 mil­lion for pan­cre­at­ic au­toim­mune ther­a­pies with Pan­dion Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech that launched last year with sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing and pedi­greed founders. The deal will pay Pan­dion up to $45 mil­lion at first, be­tween an un­spec­i­fied up­front fee and mile­stones for iden­ti­fy­ing and de­sign­ing mol­e­cules. They will then stand to earn up to $750 mil­lion in near term mile­stones from Astel­las’ pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal work.

The first tar­get is type 1 di­a­betes, a dis­ease long man­aged with in­sulin in­jec­tions but whose root caus­es have large­ly yet to be ad­dressed.

Rahul Kakkar

“The miss­ing piece is that in­sulin doesn’t slow or stop the ac­tu­al dis­ease pro­gres­sion it­self,” Pan­dion CEO Rahul Kakkar told End­points News. So the miss­ing piece here is to go up­stream, ear­li­er in the dis­ease process, be­fore the pan­creas has been so de­stroyed to the point our bod­ies no longer pro­duce in­sulin… to ac­tu­al­ly try to pre­serve the pan­creas it­self.”

This is not Astel­las first $700 mil­lion-plus for­ay in­to au­toim­mune dis­eases in gen­er­al or type 1 di­a­betes in par­tic­u­lar. In 2015, they joined with Anokion to found Kanyos Bio, a start­up fo­cused on T1 di­a­betes and celi­ac dis­ease, promis­ing to in­vest up to $760 mil­lion. By the time Anokion ful­ly ac­quired Kanyos in Sep­tem­ber, Astel­las had qui­et­ly pulled out of the ven­ture.

Orig­i­nal­ly pi­o­neered in can­cer im­munother­a­py, bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies have emerged as one of the hottest spaces for au­toim­mune re­search. The tech­nol­o­gy works in a sim­i­lar way to the an­ti­body-based mech­a­nism tu­mor cells use to trick the body in­to think­ing they are healthy cells. In­stead of la­bel­ing tu­mor cells healthy, though, you re­la­bel healthy cells the body has mis­tak­en­ly deemed for­eign.

“The idea of re­train­ing — and the sci­en­tif­ic term for that is ‘in­duc­ing tol­er­ance’ or ‘self-tol­er­ance’ — has been an idea with­in the au­toim­mune and sci­en­tif­ic space,” Kakkar said,  “but I think what is dif­fer­ent now is that sci­ence has caught up with the vi­sion.”

Pan­dion launched in Jan­u­ary 2018 with $58 mil­lion from a Po­laris-led Se­ries A fund­ing led and for­mer Pfiz­er ex­ec­u­tive An­tho­ny Coyle at the helm. They’ve spent the year-plus since amass­ing a li­brary of an­ti­bod­ies for spe­cif­ic tis­sues, Kakkar said.

We have been work­ing to ex­pand the ar­rows in our quiver,” he said. 

PT-101, their lead can­di­date, will head in­to the clin­ic for in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease next year, around two years af­ter the com­pa­ny’s launch.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Bob Duggan (Duggan Investments)

Biotech bil­lion­aire Bob Dug­gan flies the white flag as Sum­mit hunts a new own­er, or part­ner, for sole clin­i­cal-stage ef­fort

Bob Duggan’s Summit Therapeutics $SMMT is running out of moves for its sole clinical-stage candidate.

The biotech issued a terse statement in an SEC filing that it’s pulling the plug on the only active clinical trial for ridinilazole, which has been through a failed late-stage trial for C. difficile. A pediatric study is being curtailed as Summit says it decided a few days ago to either partner out the therapy or get a buyer — if they can find one.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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