As­traZeneca com­mits $57.5M to seed An­ti­calin R&D pact with Pieris, a biotech on a roll

Stephen Yo­der

Boston-based Pieris Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has rolled out its sec­ond big-mon­ey col­lab­o­ra­tion in the last four months, this time reel­ing in Big Phar­ma play­er As­traZeneca, which wants to see just how ef­fec­tive the biotech’s pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing work can be in treat­ing res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­eases.

Pieris $PIRS has been work­ing for years on en­gi­neer­ing pro­teins that are lighter and more ver­sa­tile than an­ti­bod­ies, so that they can work where an­ti­bod­ies find their en­try barred.

So now Pieris is charged with tak­ing their lead res­pi­ra­to­ry drug — PRS-060, an An­ti­calin against in­ter­leukin-4 re­cep­tor al­pha — in­to a Phase I asth­ma tri­al. Once they do that, they can score $12.5 mil­lion to add to the $45 mil­lion up­front they are get­ting in the pact.

Af­ter that, there’s a load of biobucks on the ta­ble to­tal­ing $2.1 bil­lion for mile­stones plus roy­al­ties. Pieris has the right to grab co-de­vel­op­ment and co-com­mer­cial­iza­tion rights on the lead pro­gram af­ter Phase IIa, and then As­traZeneca has rights to de­vel­op four more of these res­pi­ra­to­ry An­ti­calins, with Pieris able to part­ner on two of these ther­a­pies.

In­vestors loved what they were see­ing this morn­ing, ig­nit­ing Pieris stock, which soared 52%.

This is an­oth­er key deal for Pieris, which struck a pact with Servi­er last Jan­u­ary worth $31.5 mil­lion up­front and $1.8 bil­lion in mile­stones for a next-gen, bis­pe­cif­ic PD-1 drug PRS-332 and four more im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams. Pieris ear­li­er struck a pact to work with Roche.

“While of course this adds cash run­way to bridge through yet ad­di­tion­al clin­i­cal in­flec­tion points, what we’re most ex­cit­ed about is that it will al­low us to more ag­gres­sive­ly fol­low clin­i­cal da­ta we hope to emerge from our IO pipeline, par­tic­u­lar­ly our 4-1BB bis­pe­cif­ic, PRS-343, while not hav­ing to in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ly di­lute our share­hold­ers,” Pieris CEO Steve Yo­der told me in an email. “And the fact that we’re able to have done this with­out part­ing with any rights to PRS-343 all while re­tain­ing co-dev and com­mer­cial rights for our lead res­pi­ra­to­ry as­set, PRS-060, is par­tic­u­lar­ly ex­cit­ing.”

As­traZeneca clear­ly has to be en­thused about this one. The phar­ma gi­ant has been de­vot­ing re­sources for its on­col­o­gy pipeline, re­cent­ly win­ning an ap­proval for its check­point dur­val­um­ab and keep­ing its fin­gers crossed that a com­bo of dur­val­um­ab and treme­li­mum­ab works in front­line lung can­cer.

The big idea here is that the An­ti­calins that Pieris is work­ing on can hit two key cy­tokines — IL-4 and IL-13 — in­volved in asth­ma. And by pen­e­trat­ing in­to the lungs, they be­lieve they can do it with a lighter, safer, more tol­er­a­ble dose.

Out­side of on­col­o­gy, the phar­ma gi­ant has been out­li­cens­ing more than it’s been in-li­cens­ing, gen­er­at­ing rev­enue out of less com­pelling as­sets as it seeks a fun­da­men­tal turn­around af­ter see­ing gener­ics dec­i­mate its biggest fran­chis­es.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

UP­DAT­ED: Boehringer nabs FDA's first in­ter­change­abil­i­ty des­ig­na­tion for its Hu­mi­ra com­peti­tor — but will it mat­ter?

The FDA late Friday awarded Boehringer Ingelheim the first interchangeability designation for its Humira biosimilar Cyltezo, meaning that when it launches in July 2023, pharmacists will be able to automatically substitute the Boehringer’s version for AbbVie’s mega-blockbuster without a doctor’s input.

The designation will likely give Boehringer, which first won approval for Cyltezo in 2017, the leg up on a crowded field of Humira competitors.

Bio­gen hit by ALS set­back with PhI­II fail­ure for tofersen — but fol­lows a fa­mil­iar strat­e­gy high­light­ing the pos­i­tive

Patients and analysts waiting to hear Sunday how Biogen’s SOD1-ALS drug tofersen fared in Phase III didn’t have to wait long for the top-line result they were all waiting for. The drug failed the primary endpoint on significantly improving the functional and neurologic decline of patients over 28 weeks as well as the extension period for continued observation.

In fact, there was very little difference in response.

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Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex CEO (YouTube)

Ver­tex gets much-need­ed win with ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary’ first pa­tient re­sults on po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure

Vertex said Monday that the first patient dosed with its cell therapy for type 1 diabetes saw their need for insulin injections vanish almost entirely, a key early step in the decades-long effort to develop a curative treatment for the chronic disease.

The patient, who had suffered five potentially life-threatening hypoglycemic — or low blood sugar — episodes in the year before the therapy, was injected with synthetic insulin-producing cells. After 90 days, the patient’s new cells produced insulin steadily and ramped up their insulin production after a meal like normal cells do, as measured by a standard biomarker for insulin production.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Jeffrey Nau, Oyster Point Pharma CEO

FDA OKs an in­haled ver­sion of smok­ing ces­sa­tion drug Chan­tix — for a com­mon eye dis­ease

Oyster Point Pharma now has its first FDA-approved product — Tyrvaya. And the biotech has taken a unique route to get there by using an old drug with a storied past.

The New Jersey biotech announced this morning that the FDA has approved their nasal spray product for dry eye disease on Friday — the first nasal spray to be approved for the disease. The product’s active ingredient is 0.03 mg of varenicline, also known as smoking cessation aid Chantix.

Sheldon Koenig, Esperion CEO

Es­pe­ri­on gets out the bud­get ax, chop­ping 170 staffers as its big drug launch sput­ters

Esperion’s executive team spent years insisting that they had found the sweet spot in the market for their cholesterol drug. But that strategy has soured badly, and after struggling to sell its heart disease pill for more than a year, the biotech says it will cut about 40% of its staff over the next few weeks.

The layoffs will take place across the board, from sales and marketing to R&D, CEO Sheldon Koenig told Endpoints News on Monday. While the chief executive declined to elaborate on how many employees will be affected, an SEC filing stated that approximately 170 staffers are on the chopping block.

Two drug­mak­ers hit with PDU­FA date de­lays from FDA amid back­log of in­spec­tions

As the FDA is weighed down with more and more pandemic responsibilities, the agency is beginning to miss PDUFA dates with more frequency too. Two different companies on Monday said they received notices that the FDA has not completed their drug reviews on time.

The review of an NDA for Avadel Pharmaceuticals’ candidate treatment for narcolepsy is not coming this month, the company said, and the review of UCB’s BLA for bimekizumab, used to treat moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, will miss its target date as well.

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