As­traZeneca, Can­cer Re­search UK set up ge­nomics hub to fight up­hill bat­tle against can­cer

In the wake of two big fail­ures for their check­point in­hibitor/CT­LA-4 com­bo, As­traZeneca $AZN is brush­ing its Brex­it fear aside and pour­ing its R&D heft in­to a new cen­ter in part­ner­ship with Can­cer Re­search UK, de­signed to har­ness the pow­er of ge­nomics to de­vel­op per­son­al­ized can­cer drugs.

The fa­cil­i­ty, which will be housed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, is hop­ing to tap in­to the po­ten­tial of func­tion­al ge­nomics, in par­tic­u­lar the gene edit­ing tool CRISPR, to bet­ter un­der­stand can­cer bi­ol­o­gy and ge­net­ic dri­vers of drug re­sis­tance, in a bid to bring treat­ments to pa­tients faster.

Greg Han­non

“As we de­vel­op high-qual­i­ty stan­dard­ised tech­niques through the cen­tre, we can cre­ate more so­phis­ti­cat­ed and pow­er­ful bi­o­log­i­cal mod­els of dis­ease, han­dle larg­er and more com­plex da­ta sets, and iden­ti­fy suc­cess­ful can­cer drug tar­gets with bet­ter ac­cu­ra­cy,” pro­fes­sor Greg Han­non, di­rec­tor of the Can­cer Re­search UK Cam­bridge In­sti­tute, said in a state­ment on Mon­day.

As­traZeneca is hard­ly the first drug­mak­er to set its sights on ge­nomics to tack­le hard-to-treat dis­eases, such as can­cer. It joins fel­low British drug­mak­er GSK $GSK, who ear­li­er this year tied up with 23andMe to gain ac­cess to the lat­ter’s data­base — to look for dis­ease rel­e­vant genes. Across the At­lantic, Re­gen­eron $REGN has carved out its own ge­net­ics cen­tre, Am­gen $AMGN has sharp­ened its abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy and val­i­date dis­ease tar­gets with its in­vest­ment in Ox­ford Nanopore Tech­nolo­gies and ac­qui­si­tion of de­CODE ge­net­ics, while Ver­tex $VRTX has part­nered with UK-based Ge­nomics plc on their plat­form for ge­net­ics and ma­chine learn­ing.

Pre­lim­i­nary re­search at the As­traZeneca/Can­cer Re­search UK Cen­tre is ex­pect­ed to be­gin Jan­u­ary next year, with lab­o­ra­to­ry work ex­pect­ed to com­mence in the sec­ond half of 2019.

Can­cer Re­search UK is a char­i­ty that has long cat­alyzed re­search in­to can­cer ther­a­peu­tics, vac­cines as well as di­ag­nos­tics, and has pre­vi­ous­ly forged part­ner­ships with oth­er drug­mak­ers such as Te­va $TE­VA and Mer­ck $MRK.

The bat­tle against can­cer has long tak­en up a large chunk of the Na­tion­al Health Ser­vice bud­get, with an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and fla­grant lifestyles cul­mi­nat­ing in high rates of can­cer — every two min­utes some­one in the UK is di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease, ac­cord­ing to the char­i­ty.

 

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.