Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A can­cer-fight­ing con­cept from the in­ven­tor of the first can­cer vac­cine is near­ing prime time, and its biotech de­vel­op­er has re­ceived a sig­nif­i­cant new in­fu­sion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics an­nounced a $93.5 mil­lion Se­ries C round led by Sofinno­va In­vest­ments and joined by more than 9 oth­ers, in­clud­ing Pfiz­er Ven­tures and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. That mon­ey will go to­ward push­ing the San Fran­cis­co biotech’s plat­form of in­nate im­mune-boost­ing war­heads through its first tri­al on metasta­t­ic sol­id tu­mors and in­to sev­er­al more.

Randy Schatz­man

It’s “a fair­ly el­e­gant but sim­ple mol­e­cule,” CEO Randy Schatz­man told End­points News. “It’s ba­si­cal­ly an off-the-shelf ther­a­peu­tic that physi­cians can call on to treat their pa­tients with­out all the per­son­al­iza­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing dif­fi­cul­ties that many of the I/O ap­proach­es have to­day.”

The ex­per­i­men­tal drug is what Bolt calls an im­mune-stim­u­lat­ing an­ti­body con­ju­gate. It’s based on a con­cept from Stan­ford im­mu­nol­o­gist Edgar En­gle­man, who in­vent­ed the first can­cer vac­cine in Provenge, a treat­ment for prostate can­cer. That vac­cine in­volves a mul­ti-step process where in­nate im­mune cells called den­drit­ic cells are ex­tract­ed, ex­posed to a pro­tein from the pa­tients’ own tu­mors (as you would ex­pose the im­mune sys­tem to a vi­ral or bac­te­r­i­al pro­tein in a tra­di­tion­al vac­cine) and then re­in­fused.

Bolt’s plat­form is de­signed to di­rect­ly ac­ti­vate den­drit­ic cells around tu­mors with­out the need for re­moval, treat­ment and re-in­fu­sion. The ther­a­py is an an­ti­body drug con­ju­gate sim­i­lar to those pro­duced by Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, ADC Ther­a­peu­tics, and Im­munomedics, each of which con­tain an an­ti­body to guide the ther­a­py like a war­head to the tu­mor. The dif­fer­ence is that in­stead of strap­ping a chem­i­cal to the an­ti­body that will kill cells in the area, Bolt’s drug has an ag­o­nist that will bind to re­cep­tors on the den­drit­ic cells and ac­ti­vate them to at­tack the tu­mor.

Edgar En­gle­man

If it works, the drug would turn the en­vi­ron­ment around the tu­mor from an im­muno-sup­pres­sive to one that could not on­ly kill the tu­mors once but pre­vent re­cur­rence. Their first can­di­date us­es a Her­ceptin biosim­i­lar to tar­get HER2, but in the­o­ry, Schatz­man said, it should work with an an­ti­body tar­get­ed at any onco­gene and Bolt is ex­plor­ing those op­tions, both in­ter­nal­ly and with part­ner­ships.

In Feb­ru­ary, five years af­ter the com­pa­ny’s foun­da­tion, they launched their first tri­al, putting the drug — known as BDC-1001 — in­to a Phase I/II tri­al for metasta­t­ic tu­mors that are HER2+, in­clud­ing gas­tric and breast can­cer. That tri­al will test the drug both as a sin­gle-agent ther­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with Mer­ck’s Keytru­da. The idea is that ac­ti­vat­ing the im­mune sys­tem in two dif­fer­ent ways might make for a more ef­fec­tive treat­ment.

De­spite some ear­ly con­cerns, Schatz­man says, the com­pa­ny has not seen any de­lays in that tri­al from Covid-19.

Af­ter the first da­ta emerge from the Phase I/II tri­al, the com­pa­ny will move in­to tri­als specif­i­cal­ly for gas­tric and breast can­cer, look­ing to see if it can not on­ly clear can­cers ini­tial­ly but al­so, by keep­ing the im­mune sys­tem on guard, ward off re­cur­rence, an event that can come quick­ly for pa­tients with these late-stage tu­mors.

”We’re go­ing to see some quick an­swers in go­ing past what is the cur­rent stan­dard of care,” Schatz­man said. “I’d like to think it will take a long time to know where the end of this is, be­cause in that sense, we’ll have been very ef­fec­tive at treat­ing these pa­tients.”

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

A P val­ue of 0.38? NE­JM re­sults raise new ques­tions for Eli Lil­ly's vaunt­ed Covid an­ti­body

Generally, a P value of 0.38 means your drug failed and by a fair margin. Depending on the company, the compound and the trial, it might mean the end of the program. It could trigger layoffs.

For Eli Lilly, though, it was part of the key endpoint on a trial that landed them a $1.2 billion deal with the US government to supply up to nearly 1 million Covid-19 antibodies.

So what does one make of that? Was the endpoint not so important, as Lilly maintains? Or did the US government promise a princely sum for a pedestrian drug?

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Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

CMO Merdad Parsey (Gilead)

Gilead hits the brakes on a tri­fec­ta of mid- and late-stage stud­ies for their trou­bled fil­go­tinib pro­gram. It's up to the FDA now

Gilead $GILD execs haven’t decided exactly what to do with filgotinib in the wake of the slapdown at the FDA on their rheumatoid arthritis application, but they’re taking a time out for a slate of studies until they can gain some clarity from the agency. And without encouraging guidance, this drug could clearly be axed from the pipeline.

In their Q3 report out Wednesday afternoon, the company says researchers have “paused” a Phase III study for psoriatic arthritis along with a pair of Phase II trials for ankylosing spondylitis and uveitis. Late-stage studies for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are continuing, but you can see for yourself how big a hole this leaves in the inflammatory disease pipeline, with obvious implications if the company abandons filgo altogether.

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Noubar Afeyan, Flagship founder and CEO (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Flag­ship launch­es Sen­da Bio­sciences with $88M in back­ing, look­ing to pi­o­neer the field of 'In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy'

Flagship Pioneering has a fresh company out this week, one that aims to lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline.

Senda Biosciences launched Wednesday with $88 million in Flagship cash. The goal? Gain insights into the molecular connections between people and coevolved nonhuman species like plants and bacteria, paving the way for “Intersystems Biology.”

Guillaume Pfefer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech veteran who comes from GSK after leading the development of the company’s shingles vaccine.

Q32 Bio grabs $60M to kick off hu­man stud­ies for next-gen com­ple­ment drugs — with some Covid-19 tweaks along the way

For a company that launched in the early months of the pandemic, Q32 Bio had its fair share of run-ins with the new normals under Covid-19.

The original plan, for instance, was to conduct first-in-human studies of the IL-7 receptor antibody it licensed from Bristol Myers Squibb in the Netherlands. But they realized shortly after that while the country was beginning to open up clinical trials, there were additional restrictions on drugs that tampered with immunological mechanisms.

Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief

GSK's Hal Bar­ron ax­es a once-prized drug from J&J, con­tin­u­ing shift away from res­pi­ra­to­ry

Hal Barron’s revamp of the GlaxoSmithKline pipeline continued yesterday, as the British pharma announced they axed an asthma drug they once promised over $200 million to acquire.

Then led by CEO Andrew Witty and R&D chief Patrick Vallance, GSK picked up the drug, known elegantly as GSK3772847, from J&J in 2016, hoping to expand on the beachhead in asthma they had established the year prior with Breo Ellipta. They promised up to $227 million in upfront payments and milestones.

Konstantin Poukalov

Per­cep­tive re­cruits A-list in­vestors to back its in-house Chi­na start­up with a mam­moth $310M raise

It took two years for Perceptive Advisors to conceive and boot up LianBio, its big bet on a new kind of in-licensing model for China, seeding it with enough cash to set up two anchoring deals with MyoKardia and BridgeBio. The result was a startup that was all ready to go, reaping $310 million just a little over two months after official launch.

Homegrown Chinese biotechs — many of them boasting of US ties and execs with overseas credentials — have been raking in mega-venture rounds in 2020, both from influential local backers and overseas VC firms that have been loading up new cash. As with IPOs, the deal flow might be slower but the amounts are often more staggering. LianBio’s latest round, unusually, is branded both a Series A and crossover.

Ar­cus and As­traZeneca part­ner on a high stakes an­ti-TIG­IT/PD-L1 PhI­II can­cer study, look­ing to im­prove on a stan­dard of care

For AstraZeneca, the PACIFIC trial in Stage III non-small cell lung cancer remains one of the big triumphs for AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group. It not only made their PD-L1 Imfinzi a franchise player with a solid advance in a large niche of the lung cancer market, the study — which continues to offer data on the long-range efficacy of their drug — also helped salve the vicious sting of the failure of the CTLA-4 combo in the MYSTIC study.