Blue­bird’s gene ther­a­py for be­ta-tha­lassemia falls short of a cure, but still wows in 22 pa­tients

Af­ter go­ing back to the draw­ing board to come up with a bet­ter gene ther­a­py for be­ta-tha­lassemia, a dis­ease that in­ter­feres with the body’s abil­i­ty to pro­duce he­mo­glo­bin, in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing for blue­bird bio $BLUE have pro­duced some com­pelling da­ta to demon­strate that their ther­a­py can elim­i­nate or re­duce the need for blood trans­fu­sions.

But they don’t have a cure — yet.

Pub­lish­ing in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, the re­searchers re­port that they test­ed the treat­ment in 22 pa­tients. In the 9 pa­tients with the most se­vere form of the dis­ease, they re­port they were able to dra­mat­i­cal­ly re­duce the need for blood trans­fu­sions by 73% and elim­i­nate it for now in 3. Six of those pa­tients, though, have need­ed to con­tin­ue trans­fu­sions. And 12 of 13 pa­tients with a less se­vere form of the dis­ease cur­rent­ly no longer re­quire blood trans­fu­sions af­ter a sin­gle treat­ment — with a me­di­an of 26 months trans­fu­sion-free.

The in­ter­im da­ta great­ly ex­pands on the pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ences they can now bank on to demon­strate the ef­fi­ca­cy of the at­tempt at a once-and-done ther­a­py which af­fects hun­dreds of thou­sands of pa­tients. And the in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not aban­doned an at­tempt to find a com­plete cure for all.

“There is room for im­prove­ment, as we’d like to see the elim­i­na­tion of de­pen­den­cy on trans­fu­sion even for pa­tients with the most se­vere form of the dis­ease,” Har­vard Med­ical’s Philippe Leboulch told their in-house pub. “But there is al­so hope with pro­to­col mod­i­fi­ca­tions we have in­tro­duced in our Phase III tri­als.”

Blue­bird — run by CEO Nick Leschly — was forced to go back and change the man­u­fac­tur­ing process on Lenti­Glo­bin af­ter some un­even re­spons­es ear­ly on. Last sum­mer, the com­pa­ny came up with some en­cour­ag­ing da­ta on the first three pa­tients.

The gene ther­a­py is made by ex­tract­ing blood stem cells from pa­tients and in­sert­ing a func­tion­al be­ta-glo­bin gene in­to them, trans­plant­i­ng them af­ter a round of chemo to clear their bone mar­row.

Jerome Groop­man in The New York­er writes:

The chal­lenge now is find­ing ways to im­ple­ment a com­plex, po­ten­tial­ly life-sav­ing treat­ment in parts of the world where med­ical care is lim­it­ed. Es­tab­lished fa­cil­i­ties for au­tol­o­gous mar­row trans­plan­ta­tion al­ready ex­ist in many de­vel­oped na­tions, as do lab­o­ra­to­ries that can in­tro­duce a healthy glo­bin gene in­to stem cells. But, in some parts of the world where be­ta tha­lassemia is most com­mon, these fa­cil­i­ties do not yet ex­ist.

Con­trary to what the en­thu­si­asts may be pre­sent­ing to­day, there’s clear­ly room for im­prove­ment. And blue­bird is clear­ly not alone in the field try­ing to pro­duce a cure. CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics, for ex­am­ple, has been us­ing its gene edit­ing tech to see if it can find a last­ing cure for the dis­ease. And those oth­er pro­grams, in­clud­ing ef­forts at Bel­licum, will like­ly con­tin­ue to see if they can leapfrog blue­bird with some­thing bet­ter.


blue­bird bio CEO Nick Leschly Get­ty

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Jan van de Winkel, Genmab CEO

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, Gen­mab turn on TV for a high­light reel in cer­vi­cal can­cer — but a ri­val biotech promis­es a bet­ter show

Seattle Genetics $SGEN and their partners at Genmab $GMAB polished up some positive Phase II numbers for their antibody drug conjugate tisotumab vedotin — you can call it TV — for recurrent cervical cancer. And while they mapped out a shortcut to a potential quick approval, the big challenge for this team is being presented by a rival biotech which muscled its way into the spotlight for the same indication a year ago.

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Paul Tesar (Convelo Therapeutics)

Io­n­is, lead­ing MS re­searcher throw an­ti­sense at a new type of brain cells

No matter how many molecules he threw at them, Paul Tesar couldn’t get the brain cells to survive. Or he got them to survive, but then — to everyone’s bafflement — they still couldn’t do what they were supposed to.

Tesar, a professor of innovative therapeutics at Case Western University, had spent years building stem cell models for multiple sclerosis, growing brain organoids in dishes and then seeing what small molecules restored myelin production. Now he was trying to do the same for other myelin diseases, particularly an ultra-rare genetic condition called Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, where a single mutation leads to the death of the myelin-producing neurons, called oligodendrocytes, and can kill patients in infancy.