AACR: Bay Area biotech bets on an­ti­bod­ies armed with im­muno-stim­u­lant to fight check­point-re­sis­tant can­cers

The sci­en­tist be­hind the first prostate can­cer vac­cine Provenge — once cel­e­brat­ed as a his­toric break­through, but now a fad­ing star — has de­vised a type of armed an­ti­body — loaded with an im­muno-stim­u­lant rather than a cy­to­tox­ic pay­load — to fight can­cers re­sis­tant to the army of ex­ist­ing check­point in­hibitors.

Ed En­gle­man

The re­searcher, Stan­ford’s Ed En­gle­man, has built on his re­search in­to den­drit­ic cells — which are con­sid­ered ‘sen­tinels’ of the im­mune sys­tem as they are re­spon­si­ble for in­duc­ing im­mune T-cell re­spons­es — to de­vel­op this Im­mune-Stim­u­lat­ing An­ti­body Con­ju­gate (ISAC) tech­nol­o­gy, which was un­veiled by ex­clu­sive li­censee Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics at the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Can­cer Re­search (AACR) Con­fer­ence on Mon­day.

“What Bolt has come up with is to wake up den­drit­ic cells with­in the (tu­mor) mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, and we were able to do this in a tar­get­ed way,” said David Dor­nan, se­nior VP of re­search, in an in­ter­view with End­points News ahead of the con­fer­ence.

Many pa­tients are re­frac­to­ry to check­point in­hibitors be­cause there are a num­ber of im­muno­sup­pres­sive fac­tors present in their tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, and so re­searchers have been try­ing to har­ness dif­fer­ent mol­e­cules to stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem, one of which are toll-like re­cep­tor (TLR) ag­o­nists — spe­cial­ized pro­teins that ini­ti­ate an im­mune re­sponse to for­eign pathogens or, in this case, can­cer cells.

David Dor­nan

But the chal­lenge of de­liv­er­ing these ad­ju­vants is that they must be de­liv­ered in­tra­tu­moral­ly, be­cause if they were ad­min­is­tered sys­tem­i­cal­ly — say oral­ly or in­tra­venous­ly — they can be­come tox­ic as im­mune cells across the body are ac­ti­vat­ed and the im­pact is not tar­get­ed, Dor­nan em­pha­sized.

Bolt’s ISAC tech­nol­o­gy is there­fore tar­get­ed — it con­ju­gates an ad­ju­vant on to a tu­mor tar­get­ing an­ti­body in or­der to de­liv­er this im­mune ag­o­nist di­rect­ly to the tu­mor.

Grant Yone­hi­ro

This is a log­i­cal evo­lu­tion — orig­i­nal­ly, re­searchers were tar­get­ing the tu­mor with chemother­a­peu­tics or an­ti­body drug con­ju­gates, then came the check­point in­hibitors that were de­signed to prime the im­mune sys­tem to at­tack the tu­mor, Bolt’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Grant Yone­hi­ro said. “We do both, we’re tar­get­ing the tu­mor with our an­ti­body, but we’re al­so turn­ing on the im­mune sys­tem in the tu­mor.”

But it’s still ear­ly days. Bolt has so far con­duct­ed pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies.

The da­ta sug­gest that the tech can “rein­vig­o­rate the im­mune sys­tem to an ex­tent that if the can­cer came back you have a reper­toire of T-cells that can find, start pro­lif­er­at­ing and then start to kill the can­cer cells,” Dor­nan said.

“We see pro­found tu­mor shrink­age in pre­clin­i­cal mod­els, we see im­muno­log­i­cal mem­o­ry — the abil­i­ty for once when you clear a tu­mor, that if the can­cer comes back — if we give the mouse the can­cer cells, we don’t have re-ad­min­is­ter any ther­a­py — the mouse’s T-cells rec­og­nize the tu­mor and erad­i­cate it. We’ve done these mod­els in can­cers that are large­ly re­frac­to­ry to stan­dard-of-care ther­a­pies.”

With the ad­di­tion of a cy­to­tox­ic pay­load, the du­ra­tion of re­sponse is the main hur­dle — but adding on an im­muno-stim­u­lant can cir­cum­vent that, the ex­ec­u­tives un­der­scored. Bolt’s pre­clin­i­cal da­ta has shown that the ISAC ap­proach is arm­ing the body with a reper­toire of T-cells that even if the can­cer tries to mu­tate around it, the pa­tient has a fight­ing chance.

Bolt has sev­er­al pro­grams in its ar­se­nal, and its lead pro­gram is like­ly go­ing to be de­vel­oped for use in breast can­cer, gas­tric can­cer and blad­der can­cer, Dor­nan said.

The 30-em­ploy­ee Bay Area com­pa­ny has raised $72 mil­lion so far, and hopes to be in the clin­ic by 2020. An IPO is al­so on the cards. “We’re still a lit­tle ear­ly for that, but we think there’s a lot of po­ten­tial for an IPO down the line,” Yone­hi­ro said.

In­vestors pony up $476M for the lat­est round of biotech IPOs to hit the Street

Three biotechs — and a genome se­quenc­ing play­er — have caught the lat­est tide to the Gold Coast of IPOs, round­ing out the first half of 2019 with 23 new drug de­vel­op­ers mak­ing it on Nas­daq.

Most of these com­pa­nies filed their IPOs al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, though we’re still wait­ing on word of fel­low class­mate Bridge­Bio’s pric­ing af­ter CEO Neil Ku­mar set the terms at $14 to $16 a share on Mon­day in search of a $240 mil­lion (or so) wind­fall. If he’s suc­cess­ful, that would take the one-week haul past the $700 mil­lion mark, a fresh sign that in­vestors’ en­thu­si­asm for new­ly coined pub­lic biotechs hasn’t cooled.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

Robert Forrester, Verastem

Ve­rastem CEO For­rester steps to the ex­it as the board hunts com­mer­cial-savvy ex­ec for the be­lea­guered biotech

Robert For­rester is step­ping down as CEO of Ve­rastem On­col­o­gy $VSTM just 8 months af­ter the com­pa­ny nabbed an ap­proval for du­velis­ib, a PI3K drug with a sto­ried past — and what ap­pears as not much of a fu­ture.

The biotech put out word this morn­ing that For­rester will take an ad­vi­so­ry role with Ve­rastem while COO Dan Pa­ter­son steps up to take charge of the lead­er­ship team and the board looks around for a new CEO.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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Ken Frazier appears before the Senate Committee on Finance for a hearing on prescription drug pricing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 26, 2019. Chris Kleponis for CNP via AP Images

Who’s next in line to suc­ceed Ken Fra­zier as CEO of the Keytru­da-blessed Mer­ck?

When Merck waved off a looming forced retirement for Ken Frazier last September, the board cited flexibility in CEO transition as a key factor in the decision. Having Frazier — who’s also chairman of the company — around beyond his 65th birthday in 2019 would ensure they install the best person at the best time, they said.

The board has evidently begun that process with a clear preference for internal candidates, sources told Bloomberg. CFO Robert Davis, chief marketing officer Michael Nally, and chief commercial officer Frank Clyburn are all in the running, according to an insider.

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In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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