ATAI adds MD­MA biotech to grow­ing list of psy­che­del­ic mak­ers; Aca­dia adds $52.5M up­front pain buy­out

For years, the biggest push in psy­che­del­ic drug de­vel­op­ment has been around MD­MA, a par­ty drug long thought to have po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for pa­tients with PTSD. Rick Doblin, for years psy­che­del­ic ther­a­py’s most promi­nent ad­vo­cate and fundrais­er, and his non-prof­it, MAPS, have raised mil­lions to ad­vance clin­i­cal tri­als, most re­cent­ly rais­ing $30 mil­lion to com­plete a Phase III study in vet­er­ans.

But ATAI, the Ger­man-born biotech that has quick­ly be­come the most promi­nent pri­vate pro­mot­er and dri­ver of psy­che­del­ic ther­a­py, still thinks they have some­thing to of­fer. Yes­ter­day, the port­fo­lio an­nounced their lat­est sub­sidiary: Em­path­Bio.

Srini­vas Rao

The idea be­hind Em­path­Bio is that Doblin’s ap­proach, while promis­ing, will on­ly rep­re­sent MD­MA 1.0. In a a re­cent MAPS analy­sis of pooled Phase II stud­ies – not a per­fect­ly sound mea­sure but good enough to sup­port more stud­ies – about half of the 100 pa­tients who re­ceived the drug didn’t have the di­ag­nos­tic symp­toms for PTSD two months af­ter their last dos­ing. The prob­lem, said ATAI CSO Srini­vas Rao, is that the drug has to be ad­min­is­tered over mul­ti­ple days in fa­cil­i­ties where pa­tients are su­per­vised by trained pro­fes­sion­als for hours.

“The chal­lenge with MD­MA as it’s en­vi­sioned by MAPS is that it’s dif­fi­cult to de­ploy and to scale up,” Rao told End­points News. “What we want to do is tran­si­tion this more to an out­pa­tient, or day-ther­a­py type of ap­proach, so we’re look­ing at com­pounds that are po­ten­tial­ly safer.”

The com­pa­ny re­mains far from the clin­ic, but they will work on MD­MA-like com­pounds that they say have a bet­ter pro­file. With at least one oth­er com­pa­ny, no­tably Kures, ATAI and its sub­sidiaries have tweaked gener­ic, plant or oth­er non-patentable mol­e­cules in large part to make them patentable, en­sur­ing there’s a vi­able com­mer­cial path­way.

But Em­path­Bio CEO Glenn Short point­ed to the po­ten­tial for some of these tweaks to re­duce hy­per­ten­sion of MD­MA, al­low­ing it to be giv­en pa­tients with co-mor­bidi­ties, as well as al­low­ing it to be giv­en over short­er pe­ri­ods of time and in less con­trolled set­tings, al­low­ing pa­tients to re­ceive the drug in rur­al and oth­er ar­eas.

Aca­dia adds to pain pipeline 

Aca­dia has been adding to its pipeline of late, most re­cent­ly pick­ing up new Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia can­di­dates in a mile­stone-heavy deal with Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty. Now, in a larg­er deal, they’ve added a new pre­clin­i­cal and ear­ly-stage clin­i­cal pipeline of pain drugs, buy­ing out Cer­Sci Ther­a­peu­tics for $52.5 mil­lion up­front and $887 mil­lion in mile­stones.

The com­pa­ny had been de­vel­op­ing for mul­ti­ple neu­ro­log­i­cal in­di­ca­tions but had been fo­cused on non-opi­oid painkillers for acute and chron­ic pain. A lead com­pound, ACP-044, was shown tol­er­a­ble in Phase I stud­ies. Aca­dia said a Phase II study is planned for next year.

In a sec­ond big set­back for Covid-19 an­ti­body treat­ment hopes, Re­gen­eron halts en­roll­ment for more se­vere pa­tients

Regeneron has just delivered more bad news for the hope that neutralizing antibodies could be used to treat patients with more severe forms of Covid-19.

The New York biotech said today that an independent monitoring committee recommended halting enrollment of patients who need high-flow oxygen or mechanical ventilation in one of the trials on their antibody cocktail, after finding “a potential safety signal” and “an unfavorable risk/benefit profile.” The news comes a week after the NIH scrapped a trial of Eli Lilly’s Covid-19 antibody after finding it was having little effect on an initial cohort of hospitalized patients.

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Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

News brief­ing: Ax­o­vant faces months of de­lay on lead Parkin­son's gene ther­a­py; Chi­nese CAR-T biotech nabs $100M

One of Axovant’s top gene therapy prospects for its second act is hitting a roadblock that could push its clinical timelines back by almost a year.

In an update, the biotech said it was informed about delays in CMC data and third-part fill-finish issues around mid-October by its manufacturing partner, Oxford Biomedica. Axovant has been developing a suspension-based process for the Parkinson’s drug; with that taking longer than expected, it now believes “it is unlikely that its planned randomized, sham-controlled trial of AXO-Lenti-PD will enroll patients by the end of calendar year 2021.”

Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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As­traZeneca sells off heart fail­ure and hy­per­ten­sion drugs to Chep­lapharm for $400M

Out with the old and in with the new: AstraZeneca is selling off two heart failure and hypertension drugs to Germany-based Cheplapharm, bagging $400 million and making way for development in other areas.

Cheplapharm paid $200 million for the European rights to Atacand (candesartan cilexetil) and Atacand Plus (candesartan cilexetil and hydrochlorothiazide) back in 2018. They’re now doubling that amount for commercial control in more than 70 countries.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Andreas Arnold/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Flush with $486M con­tract, As­traZeneca signs Lon­za up to man­u­fac­ture an­ti­bod­ies; BioN­Tech's Ugur Sahin ex­pects vac­cine da­ta 'in a fort­night'

Days after scoring a $486 million BARDA contract to develop and manufacture its long-acting antibody combo for Covid-19, AstraZeneca has tapped Lonza to produce the drug substance at its mid-scale facility in Portsmouth, NH.

The drug, dubbed AZD7442, puts together two antibodies, first discovered by scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, derived from convalescent patients who recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. AstraZeneca licensed them in June and has since further engineered them with half-life extension and reduced Fc receptor binding.

CEO Kenji Yasukawa (Astellas)

In ear­ly blow to Ken­ji Ya­sukawa's R&D re­vamp, Astel­las drops out of the TIG­IT race, cit­ing PhI fail­ure

Just after AstraZeneca jumped into the TIGIT race, Astellas quietly disclosed that it was leaving, dropping out of a hunt for an immunotherapy approach that has shown tantalizing promise but remains largely unproven.

Astellas revealed in their second quarter earnings today that they’ve ended development of the anti-TIGIT antibody they acquired in their up to $400 million buyout of Potenza in 2018. The Japanese pharma had been testing it in combination with Keytruda in a 300-person Phase I study on patients with advanced solid tumors. A smaller study testing the antibody alone was completed, 2 years ahead of schedule, in July.

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Trou­bled Unum re­brands as Co­gent Bio­sciences, re­places CEO Chuck Wil­son with An­drew Rob­bins; Jen­nifer Fox ap­point­ed as CFO at David Hung-led Nu­va­tion Bio

→ Rife with turmoil and hit with a barrage of FDA holds as it spiraled into penny-stock territory, Unum Therapeutics hopes a new name — Cogent Biosciences — and a new CEO can turn its fortunes around. Andrew Robbins takes control now and succeeds Chuck Wilson, who founded Unum in 2014.

The cell therapy biotech stumbled out of the gate when it debuted on Nasdaq in 2018 and revealed that 2 of its 9 patients died in one arm of their ACTR087 trial. The FDA would hand down 3 different holds, two for ACTR087 and another for its experimental therapy ACTR707. Adding insult to injury, Unum shed around 60% of its workforce and jettisoned its old pipeline in favor of a new one a few months ago.

Two more biotechs price IPOs, bring­ing to­tal raise to record heights

Atea Pharmaceuticals and SQZ Biotechnologies have priced their public debuts, adding to this year’s record biotech IPO raise — a pot spilling over $13 billion that dwarfs the total raises of the last four years.

Last Friday, Nasdaq head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe counted 72 biotech and biopharma IPOs this year, together raising $13.2 billion. He pegged a “fair estimate” of 75 debuts and just under $14 billion in proceeds to round out the year.