Jacques Ravel, via Ravel Lab

Biotech start­up joins quest to har­ness mi­cro­bio­me to un­teth­er re­liance on an­tibi­otics in wom­en's health

Har­ness­ing da­ta gath­ered as part of the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health (NIH) Hu­man Mi­cro­bio­me Pro­ject, the co-ed­i­tor-in-chief of the jour­nal Mi­cro­bio­me, Jacques Rav­el, has formed a biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny fo­cused on women’s health.

The com­pa­ny, chris­tened Lu­ca Bi­o­log­ics, has leaned on 15 years of Rav­el’s vagi­nal mi­cro­bio­me re­search to de­vel­op a pipeline of ther­a­peu­tics de­signed to treat uri­nary tract in­fec­tions (UTI), preterm birth and bac­te­r­i­al vagi­nosis.

The WHO es­ti­mates that UTIs im­pact half of all women, and is the most com­mon bac­te­r­i­al in­fec­tion in the Unit­ed States. An­tibi­otics are the first and on­ly line of de­fense, but drug re­sis­tance has bur­geoned and su­per­bugs are all-per­va­sive. But the path to an­tibi­ot­ic ap­proval is long, ar­du­ous and ex­pen­sive — it of­fers lit­tle fi­nan­cial gain as treat­ments must be priced cheap­ly, and of­ten lose po­ten­cy over time as mi­crobes grow re­sis­tant to them. Mean­while, doc­tors pre­fer to use old­er, in­fi­nite­ly cheap­er an­tibi­otics in their first re­sponse, re­serv­ing fresh al­ter­na­tives for acute cas­es. Con­se­quent­ly, there has been no new class of an­tibi­otics ap­proved since the 1980s — and to­day, rough­ly 700,000 deaths an­nu­al­ly are at­trib­uted to drug-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. Mean­while, the in­dus­try play­ers con­tribut­ing to the ar­se­nal of an­timi­cro­bials are fast dwin­dling as fee­ble sales frus­trate growth.

How­ev­er, last month the FDA sanc­tioned the ap­proval of Mer­ck’s $MRK com­bi­na­tion an­tibac­te­r­i­al for the treat­ment of com­pli­cat­ed uri­nary tract and in­tra-ab­dom­i­nal in­fec­tions.

Lu­ca’s mi­cro­bio­me-de­rived UTI tri­al is ex­pect­ed to be­gin en­rolling pa­tients this fall.

Lu­ca’s pipeline emerged from a vagi­nal mi­cro­bio­ta li­brary of 1,000+ strains and gene cat­a­log as­sem­bled by a re­search group led by Rav­el and fund­ed by the NIH and the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion. That da­ta were screened to iso­late genes that main­tain and pro­tect the sta­bil­i­ty of vagi­nal com­mu­ni­ties over time — and those in­sights were used to de­vel­op ex­per­i­men­tal com­pounds.

“While our re­search start­ed with metage­nom­ic se­quenc­ing to gen­er­ate large com­par­a­tive da­ta sets, we can now trans­late our find­ings in­to safe and ef­fec­tive treat­ments for wide­spread con­di­tions that stig­ma­tize and dev­as­tate mil­lions of women each year,” Rav­el said in a state­ment.

George Church Har­vard

Mi­cro­bial sci­ences com­pa­ny Seed Health, which counts Har­vard ge­neti­cist George Church and Rav­el on its sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, spawned Lu­ca as part of its mis­sion to de­vel­op mi­cro­bial ther­a­pies for con­di­tions that are un­der­served by cur­rent stan­dard-of-care. Seed Health part­ners with sci­en­tists to pro­vide cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, reg­u­la­to­ry and IP guid­ance, bio-fer­men­ta­tion scale-up, and as­sis­tance with clin­i­cal tri­als through its aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships.

Mi­cro­bio­me-based ther­a­peu­tics to­day is a fe­cund field for drug de­vel­op­ers — big and small — cap­i­tal­iz­ing on sci­ence that sug­gests flush­ing ‘good’ gut bac­te­ria in­to the sys­tem can treat a pletho­ra of con­di­tions — from C. diff in­fec­tions to obe­si­ty — us­ing dif­fer­ent ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ties, some of which are de­signed to side­step the “ick” fac­tor as­so­ci­at­ed with tra­di­tion­al stool trans­fer or fe­cal mi­cro­bio­ta trans­plan­ta­tion (FMT).

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.