BAR­DA slows its $9B en­gine for new Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tics

The Bio­med­ical Ad­vanced Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­i­ty is cool­ing its jets in look­ing for new, po­ten­tial Covid-19 treat­ments, at least in the near term.

An HHS spokesper­son told End­points News via email, “to date, BAR­DA has ob­lig­at­ed more than $9 bil­lion for the de­vel­op­ment and/or pur­chase of 13 ther­a­peu­tics, be­gin­ning in Feb­ru­ary 2020 with sup­port to de­vel­op Re­gen­eron’s mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body ther­a­peu­tic. Ther­a­peu­tics are an im­por­tant el­e­ment of the COVID-19 re­sponse, and we are fo­cused on the pro­grams cur­rent­ly un­der­way and/or in ne­go­ti­a­tion us­ing the funds avail­able to us.”

The an­nounce­ment ar­rives at a sur­pris­ing time be­cause Con­gress just re­cent­ly passed a law pulling to­geth­er more than $6 bil­lion for HHS to spend on re­search, de­vel­op­ment, man­u­fac­tur­ing, pro­duc­tion, and the pur­chase of vac­cines, ther­a­peu­tics, and an­cil­lary med­ical prod­ucts and sup­plies. Nicholas Florko at STAT News first re­port­ed the shift by BAR­DA.

Why the de­ci­sion is com­ing now re­mains un­known, al­though se­lect­ing treat­ments that ac­tu­al­ly prove to be safe and ef­fec­tive can be a very dif­fi­cult task. Of those 13 ther­a­peu­tics BAR­DA has put mon­ey in­to so far, four have now failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize or had its EUA re­voked.

Mer­ck’s check­point in­hibitor failed to get off the ground as the FDA told Mer­ck that ad­di­tion­al da­ta, be­yond a study con­duct­ed by sub­sidiary On­coIm­mune, would be need­ed to sup­port a po­ten­tial EUA ap­pli­ca­tion. BAR­DA spent more than $355 mil­lion on de­vel­op­ing the Mer­ck drug, while two oth­er re­pur­posed drugs from Re­gen­eron (Sar­ilum­ab, which re­ceived about $70 mil­lion) and Roche’s Genen­tech (Actem­ra, which re­ceived $25 mil­lion) failed in tri­als.

Eli Lil­ly’s bam­lanivimab had its EUA re­voked on April 16, but bam­lanivimab is still avail­able as part of a com­bo treat­ment that BAR­DA paid $210 mil­lion to pur­chase dos­es of.

BAR­DA al­so found suc­cess with the more than $3 bil­lion it in­vest­ed in Re­gen­eron’s mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body cock­tail of casiriv­imab and imde­vimab.

Oth­er projects are on­go­ing. Sab Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has re­ceived more than $100 mil­lion to test its nov­el poly­clon­al an­ti­body, which NIH is help­ing to study in a Phase 2/3 tri­al for non-hos­pi­tal­ized peo­ple with mild or mod­er­ate cas­es of COVID-19.

BAR­DA al­so award­ed more than $15 mil­lion to help Emer­gent BioSo­lu­tions, made fa­mous for its Bal­ti­more man­u­fac­tur­ing plant fi­as­co, to de­vel­op hu­man im­mune glob­u­lin, which is de­rived from plas­ma do­nat­ed by those who have re­cov­ered from Covid-19.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

In a first, Re­gen­eron's an­ti­body cock­tail re­duces deaths for a sub­group of hos­pi­tal­ized Covid-19 pa­tients

Scientists have come up with the first evidence that Regeneron’s antibody cocktail, which has so far only been authorized for the outpatient setting, may reduce deaths of hospitalized Covid-19 patients — albeit only a subset.

The combination of casirivimab and imdevimab is the subject of the latest data cut from RECOVERY, the large-scale UK-based trial testing a variety of potential treatments. In total, 9,785 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 were enrolled in this arm of the study and were randomly assigned to receive either usual care plus the intravenous combo or usual care alone.

Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

New Alzheimer's drug ap­proval fall­out: Pub­lic Cit­i­zen seeks re­moval of FDA's Wood­cock, Cavaz­zoni and Dunn

As Capitol Hill begins to wake up to the financial and scientific mess behind the FDA’s approval of Biogen’s new controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, nonprofit watchdog Public Citizen is now calling for the top three FDA officials who are responsible to be removed from their positions.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday, the group highlighted the “litany of flaws” in the FDA’s approval of the new drug, including the “unprecedented, inappropriately close” collaboration between the FDA and Biogen in the analysis of key trial data, basing approval on an unvalidated surrogate endpoint, not following the advice of its expert advisory committee (3 members of which have since resigned), and the wide label that the agency granted.

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Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Aus­tralian spin­out eyes the clin­ic with a pro­phy­lac­tic nasal spray for Covid-19

Whether patients are immunocompromised or just don’t like needles, one fledgling Australian biotech says it has an alternative to Covid-19 vaccines that doesn’t involve a jab in the arm — and on Tuesday, it pulled in a fresh round of funding to take it into the clinic.

ENA Respiratory, which spun out of ENA Therapeutics last year, has pulled in nearly $24.7 million (AU $30 million) to advance its nasal spray for respiratory viral infections, the company said Tuesday.

Someit Sidhu, JATT

An­oth­er life sci­ences SPAC has popped up from a small biotech CEO with the help of Take­da, No­var­tis vet­er­ans

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

The SPAC train has slowed down since the extraordinarily high levels from late 2020 into early this year, but Tuesday saw the filing of a new blank-check company targeting the life sciences industry.

Jatt Acquisition submitted its SEC paperwork Tuesday, penciling in an estimated raise of $120 million as it sets its sights on a reverse merger partner. The SPAC is run by Someit Sidhu, a co-founder of Pathios Therapeutics, as well as CEO of Akaza Bioscience and Izana Bioscience. Sidhu will control about 97% of the blank-check company’s shares, per the S-1.

CEO Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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