BIO warns mem­bers: No more rau­cous af­ter-hours events — and start putting women in se­nior posts, now

Af­ter a se­ries of rau­cous events at in­dus­try par­ties blew up in­to nasty con­tro­ver­sies — high­light­ing a painful­ly lim­it­ed num­ber of women in se­nior com­pa­ny po­si­tions — the lead­ers of the biotech in­dus­try’s chief trade or­ga­ni­za­tion says they’ve had enough. 

John Maraganore

In a let­ter to its mem­ber­ship that made the rounds on Wednes­day, which I ob­tained,  three top of­fi­cials at BIO — Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore, this year’s chair­man, along with Halozyme chief He­len Tor­ley and BIO chief Jim Green­wood — put its ex­ten­sive ros­ter of mem­ber com­pa­nies on no­tice that they have 6 years to achieve se­ri­ous gen­der di­ver­si­ty at the top. They al­so drew a line in the sand for any­one else plan­ning af­ter-hours par­ties like the one at this sum­mer’s BIO con­fab, which fea­tured top­less dancers.

If your com­pa­ny wants to stay in BIO, this mes­sage reads loud and clear, you have a code of con­duct that goes with it.

We are de­ter­mined to come to­geth­er to em­brace equal­i­ty and in­clu­sive­ness, con­front un­con­scious bias, and ad­dress sex­ist bi­as­es in all as­pects of the biotech­nol­o­gy ecosys­tem – in the work­place, in our busi­ness op­er­a­tions, in the prod­ucts we pro­duce, and at all in­dus­try-af­fil­i­at­ed ac­tiv­i­ties and events.

As a re­sult of this com­mit­ment, we stand ready to con­demn those ac­tions, ac­tiv­i­ties, or events that are clear­ly in­con­sis­tent with the val­ues BIO ac­tive­ly is pro­mot­ing through the work of BIO’s WD­DI Com­mit­tee and our gen­er­al mem­ber­ship prin­ci­ples and poli­cies.

He­len Tor­ley

This is­sue blew up first at JP Mor­gan in 2016, when a num­ber of women open­ly com­plained about the an­nu­al par­ty host­ed by LifeSci Ad­vi­sors that fea­tured a bevy of mod­els on staff. (Stung by the at­ten­tion, LifeSci Ad­vi­sors has since be­come a cham­pi­on of gen­der di­ver­si­ty.)

Then this sum­mer — with the #MeToo move­ment in full swing — came an­oth­er Par­ty At BIO Not As­so­ci­at­ed with BIO, or PAB­NAB, with dancers for en­ter­tain­ment. Spon­sors in­clud­ed Bay­er and Se­lex­is. That, too, pro­voked out­rage, with Maraganore and oth­ers con­demn­ing the event.

James Green­wood

What’s like­ly to prove much hard­er than end­ing the risqué events once and for all — per­haps even in­clud­ing Roth Cap­i­tal Part­ners, which re­sist­ed calls for change when their own events were called out for fea­tur­ing scant­i­ly clad dancers in ’16 — BIO ex­pects to see re­al, mea­sur­able and swift im­prove­ment in the num­ber of women who rep­re­sent biotechs at a se­nior-lev­el job.

Women cur­rent­ly oc­cu­py 10% of the in­dus­try’s board seats — BIO wants to move that to 20% by 2025. And they want to see the num­ber of women oc­cu­py­ing C-suite roles to dou­ble in 6 years, leap­ing from 25% to­day to 50%.

BIO is promis­ing to back this up by keep­ing the spot­light fo­cused on gen­der di­ver­si­ty, while al­so pledg­ing to do more on racial di­ver­si­ty as well as in­creased LGBTQ rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.