As­traZeneca spins out 6 drugs and an R&D group in­to Viela Bio, which emerges with a piv­otal pro­gram and $250M

As­traZeneca $AZN has culled its pipeline of pre­clin­i­cal through mid-stage an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry/au­toim­mune drugs at its big Med­Im­mune sub­sidiary in Gaithers­burg, MD and spun out six pro­grams in­to a new start­up called Viela Bio.

Viela springs in­to ex­is­tence to­day with the sup­port of a group of three mar­quee Chi­nese in­vestors who have put up $250 mil­lion to get the com­pa­ny es­tab­lished and keep all its pro­grams mov­ing for­ward un­in­ter­rupt­ed. And As­traZeneca is re­tain­ing the largest sin­gle mi­nor­i­ty stake in the com­pa­ny as it bids farewell to a group of in­ves­ti­ga­tors who have di­rect­ed this work in­side Med­Im­mune for years.

Bing Yao, the head of Med­Im­mune’s Res­pi­ra­to­ry, In­flam­ma­tion & Au­toim­mu­ni­ty In­no­v­a­tive Med­i­cines unit, is tak­ing the helm as CEO. An­oth­er As­traZeneca vet in the RIA unit, Jorn Drap­pa, will be the new chief med­ical of­fi­cer and R&D chief.

Bahi­ja Jal­lal

Yao told me in a pre­view of to­day’s an­nounce­ment that they’re still in the process of re­view­ing who at Med­Im­mune will come along. But Med­Im­mune chief Bahi­ja Jal­lal — who em­pha­sized the phar­ma gi­ant’s com­mit­ment to as­sist­ing the biotech ecosys­tem in Mary­land — says there will be no lay­offs, with some mak­ing the jump to Viela and the rest of the peo­ple at­tached to these pro­grams be­ing as­signed to oth­er projects.

“We al­ways run lean here,” says Jal­lal, so there’s no short­age of work for those who re­main. The de­part­ing group have plen­ty on their plate as well.

“It’s a rich pipeline,” says Yao, cit­ing a lead drug — inebi­lizum­ab — that’s in a po­ten­tial­ly reg­is­tra­tional Phase IIb study for a rare con­di­tion called neu­romyelitis op­ti­ca. Both the FDA and the EMA have en­dorsed the work with or­phan drug sta­tus. The oth­er two clin­i­cal pro­grams are ME­DI4920, an an­ti-CD40L-Tn3 fu­sion pro­tein for an in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tion called pri­ma­ry Sjö­gren’s syn­drome, and ME­DI7734 for myosi­tis.

The con­sor­tium of in­vestors in­cludes Boyu Cap­i­tal, 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal and Hill­house Cap­i­tal, which all met Yao’s cri­te­ria: Deep pock­ets, a longterm view of things and a big ap­petite for biotech. Boyu is an in­flu­en­tial pri­vate eq­ui­ty group that al­so backed Greg Ver­dine’s LifeM­ine. And Wuxi Health­care Ven­tures threw in with Front­line BioVen­tures to cre­ate 6 Di­men­sions in a merg­er last year.

In the long run, says the new­ly mint­ed CEO, these are the kind of back­ers that will help build a staff of 100 over the next few years, while al­so as­sist­ing as Viela be­gins the ear­ly work of scout­ing the com­mer­cial prospects of its lead ther­a­py. Viela, he says, can go all the way in be­com­ing a ful­ly in­te­grat­ed biotech com­pa­ny.

As­traZeneca has been shed­ding as­sets for years now as it con­cen­trates its R&D cash around three key fields: On­col­o­gy first and fore­most fol­lowed by car­dio/meta­bol­ics and res­pi­ra­to­ry. The clin­i­cal stage drugs be­ing spun out to­day have been list­ed with the re­main­der of the neu­ro­sciences pro­grams as the “oth­er” cat­e­go­ry of work be­ing done at As­traZeneca, and ex­ecs em­pha­sized that they’re re­tain­ing the Phase III lu­pus drug an­i­frol­um­ab, where they have high hopes of suc­cess.

A spin­out like this, says Jal­lal, is a nat­ur­al re­sult when you have a rich pipeline like As­traZeneca’s, where there are more drugs to de­vel­op than it can han­dle alone.

 

 

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Skin tu­mors in mice force Pro­tag­o­nist to halt lead pro­gram, crush­ing stock

Protagonist Therapeutics just can’t catch a break.

Six months after the Newark, CA-based biotech unveiled grand plans to launch its lead candidate for blood disorders into a Phase III trial, the FDA has slapped the program with a clinical hold. The halt — which applies to all trials involving the candidate, rusfertide — comes after skin tumors were discovered in mice treated with the drug, according to Protagonist.

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Chi­nese biotech Ever­est signs $550M+ li­cens­ing deal for BTK in­hibitors on heels of Covid-19 pact

Everest Medicines is on a roll with two licensing deals in one week.

The Shanghai-based biotech has paid Sinovent and SinoMab $12 million upfront for the rights to a BTK inhibitor for renal diseases, the company announced Thursday. The deal comes just days after Everest came away with rights to a Covid-19 vaccine in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Everest will pay Sinovent and SinoMab up to $549 million in milestone payments and royalties. The agreement includes tech transfer of Sinovent and SinoMab’s manufacturing process for the candidate, named XNW1011.