As­traZeneca bets cau­tious­ly on on­colyt­ic virus dis­cov­ery pro­gram, out­lin­ing $13M deal with Trans­gene

Mount­ing a pre­lim­i­nary ef­fort to catch up with oth­er phar­ma gi­ants in the on­colyt­ic virus space, As­traZeneca has found a part­ner in France’s Trans­gene.

In the deal, the biotech — which is al­ready al­lied with Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Pfiz­er/Mer­ck KGaA on com­bi­na­tion pro­grams with its in-house ther­a­peu­tic vac­cines — will come up with five new armed on­colyt­ic vac­cinia virus can­di­dates. As­traZeneca is start­ing small with $10 mil­lion up­front and just $3 mil­lion in pre­clin­i­cal suc­cess mile­stones, but promis­es an undis­closed li­cense fee for each clin­i­cal can­di­date they ul­ti­mate­ly de­cide to co-de­vel­op.

Jean-Charles So­ria

The phar­ma gi­ant $AZN will al­so be able to choose the trans­genes to be en­cod­ed with­in the virus, a key ad­di­tion that pro­vides added fire­pow­er to the im­mune sys­tem against the tu­mor.

Long rec­og­nized as a tool to di­rect­ly kill can­cer cells, on­colyt­ic virus­es gained trac­tion in re­cent years af­ter re­search sug­gests that by burst­ing can­cer cells and re­leas­ing anti­gens with­in, they can al­so trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse. That makes them a po­tent im­munother­a­pies on its own as well as an ide­al pair­ing agent for the next gen­er­a­tion of I/O com­bos.

As­traZeneca first got its hands on an on­colyt­ic virus in 2015 when it inked a li­cens­ing agree­ment with Om­nis Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals (now Vyr­i­ad), but it told Bio­Cen­tu­ry that “there are cur­rent­ly no on­go­ing AZ-spon­sored clin­i­cal tri­als of the can­di­date.”

Jean-Charles So­ria, SVP of As­traZeneca’s new­ly named on­col­o­gy unit, added they have “an ex­cit­ing port­fo­lio of mol­e­cules that we be­lieve may aug­ment on­colyt­ic virus ac­tiv­i­ty.”

Oth­er big play­ers such as Mer­ck, J&J, Pfiz­er and Boehringer have each bagged or seed­ed their own on­colyt­ic virus projects on the foot­steps of Am­gen’s T Vec, along­side biotech play­ers like PsiOxus, un­der­scor­ing the mo­men­tum of the next wave.

Mean­while, Trans­gene will con­tin­ue plough­ing on its in-house pipeline and promis­es to send a few more drugs to the clin­ic in 2020.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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UP­DAT­ED: 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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Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million Series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017.  Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer and Amarin.

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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