Novavax site in Gaithersburg, MD. Novavax

Beef­ing up its new gene ther­a­py unit, Catal­ent inks $18M deal to snap up No­vavax fa­cil­i­ties

Catal­ent’s hunt for rapid growth on the gene ther­a­py front — ce­ment­ed with a $1.2 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Paragon Bio­sciences two months ago — has led them to the vac­cine mak­ers at No­vavax.

Stan­ley Er­ck No­vavax

With an $18 mil­lion pay­ment, Paragon is tak­ing over two No­vavax sites in Gaithers­burg, MD, in­clud­ing more than 100 of the em­ploy­ees al­ready work­ing there. That’s in ad­di­tion to a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in op­er­at­ing costs, says the com­pa­ny, as No­vavax shifts to re­ly on Paragon for GMP ma­te­ri­als in clin­i­cal tri­als and, even­tu­al­ly, com­mer­cial sup­ply of their prod­ucts.

No­vavax could use the cash. Not on­ly is it re­quest­ed by the FDA to con­duct a whole new Phase III tri­al to con­firm that ResVax can pro­tect in­fants from med­ical­ly sig­nif­i­cant RSV dis­ease if their moth­ers were vac­ci­nat­ed — the on­ly sil­ver lin­ing from an oth­er­wise failed Phase III — the com­pa­ny al­so wants to spend on an­oth­er late-stage flu vac­cine pro­gram.

The can­di­date, NanoFlu, is now on track to ac­cess the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way at the FDA, No­vavax added. A Phase III is slat­ed to be­gin in Q3 pend­ing clin­i­cal tri­al de­sign dis­cus­sions with reg­u­la­tors.

“This al­liance is a true win-win-win for Paragon, No­vavax and our em­ploy­ees,” CEO Stan­ley Er­ck said in a state­ment.

Pe­te Buzy Paragon

For Catal­ent, this means more fire­pow­er as it revs up its pro­duc­tion en­gine to keep up with a bur­geon­ing gene ther­a­py field. Pe­te Buzy of Paragon high­light­ed No­vavax’s “very strong team of ex­perts” as key to ac­cel­er­at­ing their strat­e­gy and rapid growth.

Ex­pect­ed to close with­in a month, the trans­ac­tions al­so fol­low a sep­a­rate deal in which the CD­MO bought out Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s cen­tral launch­pad for new ther­a­pies in Eu­rope, ac­quir­ing a com­plex in Italy and scoop­ing up some 700 staffers with plans to ex­pand right away.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron res­ur­rects block­buster hopes for so­tater­cept with pos­i­tive PhII — and shares rock­et up

Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

“We’re thrilled to report such positive topline results from the PULSAR trial,” Acceleron CEO Habib Dable said in a statement. The company said in a conference call they plan on discussing a Phase III trial design with regulators.

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Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”

Pfiz­er ax­es 6 ear­ly to late-stage can­cer stud­ies from the pipeline — with one oth­er cut for sick­le cell dis­ease

Pfizer trimmed a group of 3 R&D programs using their PD-L1 Bavencio — partnered with Merck KGaA — in their latest pipeline cull.

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UP­DAT­ED: In­cyte scores much need­ed PhI­II suc­cess — and of course it’s de­liv­ered by rux­oli­tinib

Incyte’s efforts to breathe a second life into ruxolitinib — its JAK inhibitor sold in pill form as Jakafi — has been greeted with clear, if preliminary and unsurprising, Phase III success.

Topline data from the TRuE-AD2 cements ruxolitinib’s foundational importance for Incyte, and gives analysts hope that there might yet be room for growth in a pipeline that’s suffered multiple R&D setbacks.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA un­veils a new reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work to speed along gene ther­a­pies, re­ward­ing the lead­ing play­ers

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

The emphasis at the FDA over the past 5 years or so has been on assisting drug developers as much as they can to speed up regulatory reviews and push more drugs into the market. And they are now crafting a final set of regulations aimed at flagging through a whole new generation of gene therapies in clinical testing at a rapid clip.

In a set of 6 prospective guidances posted on the FDA web site Tuesday morning, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn committed the agency to staying flexible in handing out designations that are critical to gaining early approvals for drugs that claim to be once-and-done but don’t have anything close to the data needed to prove it.

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