Christian Itin at UKBIO19 (Endpoints News)

Au­to­lus buck­les down, chop­ping 20% of staff and seek­ing part­ner for a lead CAR-T pro­gram

Au­to­lus Ther­a­peu­tics showed up at the vir­tu­al ES­MO con­fer­ence just a few months ago with plen­ty of good things to say about AU­TO3, its dual-tar­get­ing CAR-T for dif­fuse large B cell lym­phoma. The safe­ty da­ta looked in­tact, and the ther­a­py promised to be more durable than the first-gen­er­a­tion op­tions.

But ear­ly Wednes­day the Lon­don-based biotech said it will be look­ing for a part­ner to take it from here — and let­ting go of 20% of its staffers in the process.

Al­so go­ing out the door are Adam Hack­er, glob­al head of reg­u­la­to­ry af­fairs and qual­i­ty, and Nush­mia Khokhar, head of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment/drug safe­ty. Au­to­lus said it will be look­ing for a new CMO while David Brochu gets pro­mot­ed to chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer.

By pri­or­i­tiz­ing AU­TO1, the lead pro­gram cur­rent­ly in a piv­otal study for adult pa­tients with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia, Au­to­lus not­ed it’s tap­ping in­to a big com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ty. The key da­ta are ex­pect­ed in 2022.

CEO Chris­t­ian Itin high­light­ed the ther­a­py’s “unique char­ac­ter­is­tics” as re­port­ed re­cent­ly at ASH, “with some pa­tients con­tin­u­ing in mol­e­c­u­lar com­plete re­mis­sion at 24 months with­out a sub­se­quent trans­plant, an event-free sur­vival of 52% at 12 months and a well-tol­er­at­ed safe­ty pro­file.”

“We al­so plan to cap­i­tal­ize on the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed pro­file of AU­TO1 by ex­plor­ing ac­tiv­i­ty in ad­di­tion­al B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies, in­clud­ing Pri­ma­ry CNS Lym­phoma (PC­NSL) where no ad­e­quate stan­dard of care cur­rent­ly ex­ists,” he added in a state­ment. “We ex­pect to see first da­ta from these ad­di­tion­al in­di­ca­tions in 2021.”

Two oth­er clin­i­cal pro­grams re­main along­side a slate of next-gen, pre­clin­i­cal con­structs in the pipeline. Like AU­TO3, AU­TO1/22 tar­gets both CD19 and CD22 but it’s based on AU­TO1. AU­TO4, mean­while, is de­signed for pe­riph­er­al T cell lym­phoma.

Go­ing for­ward, Au­to­lus ex­pects the new fo­cus and struc­ture to save $15 mil­lion per year.

As of Sept. 30, Au­to­lus re­port­ed a re­serve of $177.7 mil­lion. But it al­so burned through $120 mil­lion (in­clud­ing $96 mil­lion in R&D ex­pens­es) dur­ing those nine months, which may ex­plain a need to buck­le down un­til Itin gets his wins in the clin­ic in 2021 and 2022.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ra­maswamy and Matt Gline pen share­hold­er let­ters about the changes now un­der­way at Roivant

Friends and colleagues,

I am writing to provide our annual update on Roivant. These updates are usually restricted to our shareholders, but we are sharing this year’s letter more broadly to announce an upcoming change in my role from CEO to Executive Chairman and the promotion of Matt Gline to Chief Executive Officer.

Reflections on 2020

Much has transpired in the world and at our company since my last annual update in January 2020. One year ago we had just completed our $3 billion transaction with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma (DSP), and we were evaluating how to reinvest in our business. At the same time, SARS-CoV-2 was still a distant virus barely on our minds. Today it has afflicted the entire world sparing literally no one from its effects.

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Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Scoop: Vivek Ra­maswamy is hand­ing the CEO job to a top lieu­tenant at Roivant — but he’s not ex­act­ly leav­ing the biotech scene

Over the past 7 years since founding Roivant, Vivek Ramaswamy has been a constant blur of biotech building motion.

He launched his first biotech with an Alzheimer’s drug he picked up cheap, and watched the experiment implode in one of the highest profile pivotal disasters seen in the last decade. But it didn’t slow the 30-something exec down; if anything, he hit the accelerator. Ramaswamy blazed global paths and went on to raise billions to spur the creation of a large lineup of little Vants promising big things at a fast pace. He sold off a section of the Vant brigade to Sumitomo Dainippon for $3 billion. And more recently the relentless dealmaker has been building a computational discovery arm to add an AI-driven approach to kicking up new programs and companies, supplementing the in-licensing drive while pursuing advances that have created more than 700 jobs at Roivant, with $2 billion in reserves.

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Can strug­gling Iterum turn the cor­ner to an an­tibi­ot­ic suc­cess sto­ry? They will know in six months

More than five years after Corey Fishman and Michael Dunne dusted sulopenem off Pfizer’s shelves — the second castoff antibiotic they’ve brought out of the pharma giant — and founded Iterum Therapeutics around that single drug, they have lined up a quick shot at approval with priority review from the FDA.

The decision, six months from now, will mark a make-or-break moment for a struggling biotech that has just enough cash to keep the lights on until the third quarter.

Bahija Jallal, Immunocore

Buried in Im­muno­core's IPO fil­ings? A kick­back scheme from a now for­mer em­ploy­ee

Immunocore spent much of 2019 dealing with the fallout of the Neil Woodford scandal, as the former star investor’s fall crashed the biotech’s valuation out of unicorn range. Now it turns out that the company spent 2020 dealing with another internal scandal.

The longtime UK biotech darling disclosed in their IPO filing last week that they had fallen victim to an alleged kickback scheme involving one of their employees. After a whistleblower came forward, they said in their F-1, they spent the summer and spring investigating, finding fraud on the part of an employee and two outside vendors.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na dou­bles down on Covid-19 with new boost­er tri­als; Aus­tralia plans do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion of As­traZeneca vac­cine amid dis­tri­b­u­tion lag

As Merck bows out of the global race to develop vaccines for Covid-19, Moderna is doubling down to make sure they can quell new variants that have recently emerged and quickly spread.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech put out word on Monday that in vivo studies indicate their mRNA vaccine works well enough against two strains first detected in the UK and South Africa. But with a six-fold reduction in neutralizing titers observed against the latter strain, the company is launching a new study of a booster version to make sure it can do the job.

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Jean-Christophe-Hyvert, Lonza

Lon­za look­ing to build on 'd­if­fer­en­ti­at­ed ad­van­tage' in Covid-19, CD­MO mar­ket­place in 2021

It’s not new for Lonza, the Swiss CDMO nearing its quasquicentennial anniversary, to be in the upper echelon of the biotech manufacturing industry.

But 2020 — as it was for many CDMOs — was a special year even by Lonza’s standards. The company inked a deal to produce 1 billion worldwide doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine and tapped pharma vet Pierre-Alain Ruffieux to lead its operations, moves which have allowed Lonza to make a myriad of other deals that will continue to ramp up its global production capacity.

News brief­ing: Jef­frey Lei­den to chair Tmu­ni­ty board of di­rec­tors; Op­di­vo wins new ap­proval in ad­vanced RCC

Longtime Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden is taking on a new role.

Leiden has been appointed chairman of Tmunity’s board of directors, the company announced Monday. The move comes about a year and a half after Leiden announced he’d be stepping down from his position at Vertex.

Vertex saw immense growth under Leiden, leading the company from its exit out of hepatitis C, when cures were moving in, and into cystic fibrosis. The company’s cystic fibrosis triple combo therapy Trikafta is already its best-seller, reaching the distinction just six weeks after launch and recording the strongest first quarter of sales for any drug, per some estimates.