As­traZeneca teams with Benev­o­len­tAI on dis­cov­ery, re­search; Cam­bridge spin­out rais­es seed cash for pro­tein degra­da­tion work

→ Right now the heat is on the Big Phar­ma to tie up with the up­starts of AI to see if they can stream­line the dis­cov­ery and ear­ly-stage de­vel­op­ment process that eats up cash and time. And to­day As­traZeneca jumped in with a deal to al­ly with Benev­o­len­tAI on new drugs for chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis. “The vast amount of da­ta avail­able to re­search sci­en­tists is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tial­ly each year,” says As­traZeneca R&D leader Mene Pan­ga­los. And now they plan to em­ploy the da­ta on their be­half. 

Mene Pan­ga­los

Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge spin­out PolyProx Ther­a­peu­tics has raised £3.4 mil­lion in seed cash. The biotech is work­ing on new tech out of pro­fes­sor Lau­ra Itzha­ki’s lab­o­ra­to­ry, fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing mol­e­cules that de­grade pro­teins in­volved in tu­mor de­vel­op­ment. “Our plat­form, which har­ness­es the cell’s nat­ur­al pro­tein degra­da­tion path­ways, should al­low ac­cess to many hard-to-drug tar­gets and en­able screen­ing of mol­e­cules against these tar­gets more quick­ly than ex­ist­ing ap­proach­es,” not­ed Itzha­ki, the com­pa­ny founder and CSO.

Lau­ra Itzha­ki

Ax­cel­la Health has laid out the terms for its IPO, look­ing to sell 3.6 mil­lion shares at $20 to $22 a share. At the mid­point the com­pa­ny would raise $75 mil­lion at a val­u­a­tion of $546 mil­lion.

→ The Cana­di­an pen­ny stock biotech Tril­li­um Ther­a­peu­tics has an­nounced that CEO Niclas Stiern­holm has abrupt­ly re­signed from the com­pa­ny. As they search for a re­place­ment, Robert L. Kirk­man, the cur­rent chair­man of the board, will act as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man. CSO Bob Uger will as­sume the role of in­ter­im pres­i­dent.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic so far to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Covid-19 roundup: EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund; Bei­jing ar­rests ex-Bio­gen staffer who flew while in­fect­ed

For months now, the US government has doled out unprecedented grants to vaccine developers in hopes of speeding the completion of a Covid-19 candidate, even if that meant putting hundreds of millions or billions behind efforts that ultimately failed. Now, the European Union may do the same.

The EU is planning to use a $2.7 billion rainy day fund to make advance purchases of vaccine candidates, Reuters reports. The news comes a day after the Trump Administration reportedly settled on the five finalists for its Operation Warp Speed, all of whom will get significant funding and other US assistance to finish testing and scale up their vaccine candidates.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.

Doug Throckmorton speaks via video conference to the Senate Finance Committee, June 2, 2020 (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AP Images)

FDA de­fends its over­sight of for­eign drugs amid Sen­ate, GAO crit­i­cism

During a Senate Committee on Finance hearing Tuesday, officials from the FDA responded to criticism from senators and a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on its oversight of foreign drug manufacturers.

The hearing follows FDA’s move to halt most foreign inspections in March as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Much of the criticism centered on the agency’s practice of giving foreign facilities advanced notice of inspections while most domestic surveillance inspections are unannounced, as well as US reliance on foreign drug manufacturing.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.