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.”

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

Warren Huff, Reata CEO

Rea­ta sug­gests Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram could be de­layed, send­ing stock plung­ing

Reata Pharmaceuticals $RETA made waves last October when its drug omaveloxolone produced positive trial results in treating a rare neurological disorder, but the candidate’s path forward became much murkier Monday.

In a report of quarterly earnings, the biotech divulged that the FDA is considering delaying omaveloxolone’s NDA pending completion of a second trial. That could push back approval by at least a year given that the target population, individuals with Friedreich’s ataxia, is limited and progression of the hard-to-treat illness is notoriously slow. The Covid-19 pandemic would also hinder Reata’s ability to complete an additional trial.

Eric Shaff (Seres)

UP­DAT­ED: Af­ter a 4-year so­journ, strug­gling mi­cro­bio­me pi­o­neer Seres claims a break­out PhI­II come­back. And shares re­spond in fren­zied spike

Almost exactly 4 years ago, Seres Therapeutics $MCRB experienced one of those soul-crunching failures that can raise big questions about a biotech’s future. Out front in their pursuit of a gut punch to C. difficile infection (CDI), the Phase II test was a flat failure, and investors wiped out a billion dollars of equity value that never returned in the years that followed.

Seres, though, pressed ahead, changing out CEOs a year ago — bidding Merck vet Roger Pomerantz farewell from the C suite — and pushing through a Phase III, hoping that amping up the dosage would make the key difference. And this morning, they unveiled a claim that they had aced the Phase III and positioned themselves for a run at a landmark FDA OK.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Vi­da Ven­tures co-leads Dyne's $115M megaround for next-gen oli­go ther­a­pies aimed square­ly at mus­cles

Dyne Therapeutics started out last April with a modest $50 million to mine targeted muscle disease therapies from its in-house conjugate technology. The biotech has now convinced more investors that it’s got gems on its hands, closing $115 million in fresh financing to push its next-gen oligonucleotide drugs into the clinic.

Vida Ventures and Surveyor Capital led the round, joined by a group of other new backers including Wellington Management Company, Logos Capital and Franklin Templeton.

In­novent and Eli Lil­ly chal­lenge Mer­ck­'s mega-block­buster Keytru­da in non-small cell lung can­cer field

China-based Innovent Biologics and its multinational ally Eli Lilly shared Phase III evidence that their PD-1 inhibitor combo can delay the progression of nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer.

But the drugmakers will face stiff competition in China from Merck’s Keytruda, the ruling PD-1 which is already approved to treat both squamous and nonsquamous NSCLC and boasts positive overall survival rates.

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Anap­tys­Bio's etokimab pro­vides more dis­ap­point­ing re­sults, rais­ing ques­tions about com­pound's fu­ture

The lead program for AnaptysBio’s in-house pipeline has hit another setback.

Etokimab, an IL-33 inhibitor, did not achieve statistically significant improvement in a Phase II trial for patients suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps. Researchers measured the individuals’ bilateral nasal polyps score and sino-nasal outcome test, finding that neither improved upon a placebo after both four- and eight-week time markers, though they did demonstrate improvement over baseline levels of the examinations.

Brian Stuglik, Verastem CEO

The du­velis­ib hot pota­to is tossed to a new own­er as Ve­rastem looks to re­or­ga­nize around the pipeline

When Infinity put up duvelisib for a no-money-down instant deal, the biotech was looking for a quick exit from a clinical disaster. AbbVie had walked away from their alliance after looking at how the data stacked up in a crowded field.

And while it was approvable, it wasn’t looking pretty to anyone who thought in commercial terms.

One Big Pharma’s trash, though, was seen as a biotech treasure as a deeply troubled Verastem stepped up to grab the PI3K-delta/gamma — promising to run it across the goal lines at the FDA. And they did just that, only with little to show for it.