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.

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Covid-19 roundup: Vac­cines will need to beat place­bo by 50% to qual­i­fy for FDA OK; UK tri­al drops Kale­tra

The FDA will set the bar for approving a Covid-19 vaccine at 50% efficacy, the Wall Street Journal reported, meaning any successful candidate will have to reduce the risk of coronavirus disease by at least half compared to placebo.

That requirement is part of guidance that the agency is set to release later today, laying out detailed criteria for vaccine developers — some of whom are eyeing an OK by the end of the year, in line with expectations at Operation Warp Speed.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Take­da maps out a dis­cov­ery al­liance aimed at break­ing through the safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy bound­aries that lim­it the first-gen gene ther­a­pies

MIT headliner Harvey Lodish and Jiahai Shi in Hong Kong leant some of their work in red blood cells to help found Rubius, a Flagship startup that has been disappointing investors with its inability to stay on track with the clinical work.

But Lodish and Shi also backed another, lesser-known startup — Carmine Therapeutics — that has now inked its first Big Pharma partnership. And this one is hoping to make it big in one of the hottest fields in drug R&D: gene therapy.

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