Bil­lion­aire gifts Har­vard a his­toric $200M to 'ex­pe­dite' trans­la­tion­al bio­med­ical re­search work

The soil at Har­vard’s biotech fields just got rich­er, thanks to a $200 mil­lion gift from bil­lion­aire Len Blavat­nik’s fam­i­ly foun­da­tion.

“The over­ar­ch­ing goal of the gift is to ac­cel­er­ate the pace of ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery by short­en­ing the tra­jec­to­ry be­tween ba­sic dis­cov­ery and trans­for­ma­tion of in­sights in­to ther­a­pies,” Har­vard Med­ical School wrote of the pledge, which is the largest in its 236-year his­to­ry.

“In­suf­fi­cient fund­ing for ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery, in­ad­e­quate sup­port for en­abling tech­nolo­gies and a cul­tur­al di­vide be­tween aca­d­e­m­ic and in­dus­try sci­en­tists,” the rea­son­ing goes, are some of the cur­rent bar­ri­ers to trans­lat­ing dis­cov­ery in­to ther­a­pies. This gift aims to break them down one by one.

Len Blavat­nik

One of the most vis­i­ble steps will be the launch of the Blavat­nik Har­vard Life Lab Long­wood, to be lo­cat­ed on the Har­vard Med­ical School cam­pus and mod­eled up­on the Pagli­u­ca Har­vard Life Lab, which has housed biotech star­tups like Ak­ou­os, An­tara Ther­a­peu­tics and Blue Ther­a­peu­tics. The in­cu­ba­tor will of­fer re­sources for busi­ness build­ing as well as ex­pert ad­vis­ers to any Har­vard stu­dents, re­searchers and fac­ul­ty in­ter­est­ed in launch­ing their own biotech and life sci­ences ven­tures.

This phys­i­cal space fol­lows a string of Blavat­nik ini­tia­tives to fos­ter en­tre­pre­neur­ship at Har­vard, from the Bio­med­ical Ac­cel­er­a­tor Fund in 2007, to the Blavat­nik Bio­med­ical Ac­cel­er­a­tor and the Blavat­nik Fel­low­ship in Life Sci­ence En­tre­pre­neur­ship cre­at­ed with a $50 mil­lion gift in 2013.

The mon­ey will al­so go to­ward tal­ent re­cruit­ment — specif­i­cal­ly ex­perts who can “har­ness new da­ta-rich tech­nolo­gies to ad­vance bi­o­log­i­cal re­search.”

In con­junc­tion with its ef­fort to bring in bio­engi­neers, physi­cists, quan­ti­ta­tive an­a­lysts and com­pu­ta­tion­al bi­ol­o­gist, the school is cre­at­ing a da­ta sci­ence core fa­cil­i­ty where life sci­ences re­searchers can put AI tools to work.

Re­searchers based on the Har­vard Med­ical School cam­pus will be spurred to work with sci­en­tists from Har­vard Med­ical School’s af­fil­i­at­ed teach­ing hos­pi­tals and re­search in­sti­tu­tions through a new col­lab­o­ra­tive-grants pro­gram. With­in the school, de­part­ments are al­so en­cour­aged to come to­geth­er un­der a new­ly named Blavat­nik In­sti­tute.

The tech­no­log­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture at Har­vard is al­so get­ting a boost from the new fund­ing, from mol­e­c­u­lar imag­ing and vi­su­al­iza­tion to sin­gle-cell se­quenc­ing and high-through­put screen­ing.

“It has long been my goal to sup­port in­no­v­a­tive, break­through sci­en­tif­ic re­search and to ex­pe­dite the trans­la­tion of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery in­to treat­ments and cures,” Blavat­nik said in a state­ment. “Har­vard Med­ical School, with its un­par­al­leled his­to­ry of sci­en­tif­ic achieve­ment, cre­ativ­i­ty and sci­ence en­tre­pre­neur­ship, is the ide­al part­ner to fur­ther this dream.”

Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017.  Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer and Amarin.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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