Biotech sci­en­tist/en­tre­pre­neur Saurabh Sa­ha makes an un­usu­al re­turn to the arms of a big — and ex­ces­sive­ly dis­creet — R&D group

Over the past few years we’ve seen a grow­ing ex­o­dus of R&D ex­perts out of big bio­phar­ma groups and in­to the rapid­ly grow­ing ranks of biotech star­tups. Now, one of the biggest play­ers in the on­col­o­gy field is get­ting at least one suc­cess­ful biotech sci­en­tist and en­tre­pre­neur to make an un­usu­al re­turn trip and come back in­to the fold of a ma­jor re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Saurabh Sa­ha

This morn­ing Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY put out word that the com­pa­ny had hired Saurabh Sa­ha to run the trans­la­tion sci­ence group for the com­pa­ny, which is re­spon­si­ble for triag­ing pre­clin­i­cal work of in­ter­est and steer­ing the most promis­ing pro­grams to­ward the clin­ic.

Sa­ha — a 40-year-old Johns Hop­kins grad, where he worked in Bert Vo­gel­stein’s lab — once up­on a time la­bored in­side No­var­tis’ glob­al ops, be­fore leav­ing for a string of new jobs in biotech. Nine years ago he set up a trans­la­tion­al re­search and de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion called Bio­Med Val­ley Dis­cov­er­ies. Then his role as a ven­ture part­ner at the pro­lif­ic At­las Ven­ture led him to be­come chief med­ical of­fi­cer at Syn­log­ic, fol­lowed by a brief but wild­ly suc­cess­ful stint as CEO of Delinia.

Back at the be­gin­ning of this year Cel­gene stepped up with a $775 mil­lion deal to ac­quire Delinia — with $300 mil­lion of that in cash — just four months af­ter Sa­ha lined up a $35 mil­lion round to back a pre­clin­i­cal au­toim­mune drug that showed promise in con­trol­ling reg­u­la­to­ry T cells, restor­ing im­mune tol­er­ance and home­osta­sis.

Odd­ly, Bris­tol-My­ers has de­cid­ed to keep Sa­ha un­der wraps for this an­nounce­ment, not al­low­ing in­ter­views. That’s too bad, as com­pa­nies like Bris­tol-My­ers could use all the fresh, in­tel­li­gent faces it can get to per­suade in­vestors that there’s rea­son to be­lieve new stuff is com­ing along to whip up some ex­cite­ment.

As big bio­phar­ma of­fers re­peat­ed ev­i­dence of the kind of cash-con­strained, slow mov­ing en­vi­ron­ments that re­searchers have chafed against, high-risk biotechs with op­por­tu­ni­ty for rapid re­wards and cash wind­falls have of­fered a com­pelling bea­con for some high pro­file ex­ecs. What­ev­er Sa­ha’s rea­sons, any­thing he says that might per­suade sci­en­tists to re­con­sid­er that could on­ly ben­e­fit an in­dus­try where the trends have so far point­ed in on­ly one di­rec­tion.

That’s par­tic­u­lar­ly true for the trans­la­tion­al side of the busi­ness.

Sa­ha is stay­ing in the Boston area, where Bris­tol-My­ers is build­ing a new R&D cen­ter.

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.

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.”

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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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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