'Bio­hack­er' Tray­wick ac­ci­den­tal­ly drowned, of­fi­cial con­firms

Aaron Tray­wick

Two months af­ter his wide­ly re­port­ed death at age 28, bio­hack­er Aaron Tray­wick was found to have ac­ci­den­tal­ly drowned in the floata­tion tank he was us­ing, and the drug ke­t­a­mine was in his sys­tem.

The Of­fice of the Chief Med­ical Ex­am­in­er in Wash­ing­ton, DC, where Tray­wick’s body was dis­cov­ered on April 29, con­firmed to End­points News that the death, an ac­ci­dent, was caused by “as­phyx­ia due to drown­ing with ke­t­a­mine in­tox­i­ca­tion,” af­ter we fol­lowed up on a Bloomberg sto­ry cit­ing an au­top­sy re­port. A floata­tion tank is a sound­proof pod filled with body-tem­per­a­ture salt­wa­ter meant to pro­mote “sen­so­ry de­pri­va­tion” and “deep re­lax­ation,” while ke­t­a­mine is a pow­er­ful anes­thet­ic of­ten abused as a par­ty drug.

That’s con­sis­tent with law en­force­ment’s ini­tial note that they had no ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing foul play. Ed­wina Rogers, Tray­wick’s adop­tive cousin and one-time em­ploy­er, ear­li­er told the New York Times that a po­lice de­tec­tive said he found ke­t­a­mine in Tray­wick’s pants pock­et.

Tray­wick, the founder CEO of As­cen­dance Bio­med­ical, was known for his view that in­di­vid­u­als should be able to self-de­sign and self-ad­min­is­ter un­ap­proved treat­ments — like gene ther­a­py — with­out the re­quire­ment of a health­care pro­fes­sion­al. He gained wide pub­lic­i­ty in Feb­ru­ary when he in­ject­ed him­self with a DIY treat­ment that he hoped would cure his her­pes on­stage at a bio­hack­er con­fer­ence in Texas this Feb­ru­ary. The whole process was broad­cast live on Face­book.

While the stunt put his name all over main­stream me­dia, it al­so alien­at­ed him from the bio­hack­er com­mu­ni­ty — who thought his tac­tics went too far be­yond med­ical bound­aries even by their stan­dards — and some of his col­lab­o­ra­tors, who had frus­tra­tions about his rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the com­pa­ny’s work and the less-than-ex­pect­ed pay.

One of those frus­trat­ed was Tris­tan Roberts, a com­put­er pro­gram­mer who first helped Tray­wick to fame: Roberts, who had HIV, vol­un­teered to stage a live demon­stra­tion of an untest­ed HIV treat­ment by in­ject­ing him­self with an ex­per­i­men­tal gene ther­a­py. Short­ly there­after, with­out nam­ing names, the FDA is­sued a warn­ing against self-ad­min­is­tra­tion of gene ther­a­py prod­ucts, con­cerned about the safe­ty risks in­volved.

In an obit­u­ary pub­lished days af­ter Tray­wick’s death, Roberts de­scribed Tray­wick as a “pas­sion­ate vi­sion­ary” who “sought noth­ing short of a rev­o­lu­tion in bio­med­i­cine,” while not­ing he was “a dif­fi­cult fig­ure” whose big pic­ture men­tal­i­ty “seemed at times to cloud his judg­ment.”

“As a mu­tu­al ac­quan­taince (sic) put it: ‘We’ve all been watch­ing Aaron drown these past few months,’” Roberts wrote. “Aaron’s life gave hope to count­less peo­ple suf­fer­ing from dis­eases they be­lieve they will live with un­til their death. But it al­so brought the frus­tra­tion and ire of his re­searchers and in­vestors who were just as fre­quent­ly burned as they were brought to­geth­er.”

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.

Jonathan Symonds [via HSBC]

GSK to tap Jonathan Symonds as chair­man, lever­ag­ing Big Phar­ma ex­pe­ri­ence for con­sumer biz deal

Six months into its search for a new board chairman, GlaxoSmithKline has apparently found the perfect candidate in a seasoned executive groomed at AstraZeneca and Novartis. Jonathan Symonds is in the final stages of being appointed, Bloomberg reports.

In January Sir Philip Hampton announced his intention to step down and make way for a new leader to oversee the consumer health joint venture GSK is setting up with Pfizer. The deal — announced a month prior — would spin out the unit formerly headed by GSK CEO Emma Walmsley and merge it with the equivalent division at Pfizer to create a new entity to be listed separately.