Deaths de­rail Juno's launch count­down, giv­ing Kite and No­var­tis the lead

The FDA’s hold on Juno Ther­a­peu­tics’ lead CAR-T pro­gram, JCAR015, last­ed on­ly six days. But the de­rail­ment was se­ri­ous enough to push its ex­pect­ed ap­proval date from 2017 back in­to 2018, leav­ing Kite Phar­ma and No­var­tis an­gling for the first ap­provals in the field in 2017.

Juno CEO Hans Bish­op

“Re­gard­ing the ROCK­ET tri­al,” Juno CEO Hans Bish­op told an­a­lysts Thurs­day evening, “the process of get­ting IRB ap­proval across mul­ti­ple sites along with the gat­ed en­roll­ment for the next six pa­tients leaves us to now es­ti­mat­ing ap­proval as ear­ly as the first half of 2018.”

The new H1 2018 pro­jec­tion marks a set­back for Juno, which had been seen as run­ning neck and neck with Kite in the race to get the land­mark ap­proval for a new can­cer ther­a­py that takes cells from pa­tients and reengi­neers them in­to a can­cer cell at­tack ve­hi­cle.

The hold last month, fol­low­ing the death of sev­er­al pa­tients from lethal cas­es of cere­bral ede­ma, stunned long­time ob­servers of Juno. The biotech quick­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly ap­pealed to the agency to lift the hold, say­ing they be­lieved that adding flu­dara­bine to its pre­con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men for pa­tients — prep­ping them to bet­ter re­spond to their CAR-T — had cre­at­ed a tox­ic com­bi­na­tion with the ther­a­py, killing 4 pa­tients. Reg­u­la­tors, who had al­so placed the same ther­a­py briefly on hold af­ter cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome al­so killed some pa­tients ear­ly on, were quick to re­spond af­fir­ma­tive­ly.

The de­lay leaves JCAR015 poised to en­ter the mar­ket just a year ahead of JCAR017. Bish­op de­scribes the sec­ond drug as “the back­bone of our CD19 fran­chise,” which is aimed at NHL, pe­di­atric and adult ALL and CLL.

Juno, though, is al­so mov­ing a va­ri­ety of pro­grams across a broad R&D front, and is now go­ing af­ter mul­ti­ple myelo­ma in a new pact that ropes in long­time col­lab­o­ra­tors at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter.

In a sep­a­rate press re­lease, the Seat­tle-based biotech an­nounced Thurs­day evening that it had struck a deal with MSK and Eu­re­ka Ther­a­peu­tics for IP on bind­ing do­mains need­ed to com­mer­cial­ize a CAR-T for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma. These bind­ing do­mains were de­vel­oped in a pact that Eu­re­ka and MSK had struck ear­li­er.

That deal is par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant, as it in­volves a ful­ly-hu­man bind­ing do­main tar­get­ing B-cell mat­u­ra­tion anti­gen (BC­MA), along with bind­ing do­mains against two ad­di­tion­al undis­closed mul­ti­ple myelo­ma tar­gets. The BC­MA pact puts Juno on a po­ten­tial col­li­sion course with blue­bird bio, which al­so chose that tar­get in a col­lab­o­ra­tion its pur­su­ing with Cel­gene. Those two play­ers re­struc­tured their deal last year to con­cen­trate on BC­MA and Cel­gene lat­er signed a ma­jor pact with Juno as well.

Pfiz­er and Cel­lec­tis are al­so aim­ing at BC­MA in their col­lab­o­ra­tion, but they’re con­cen­trat­ing on a sec­ond-gen, off-the-shelf prod­uct.

Juno CSO Hy Lev­it­sky

“We ex­pect the BC­MA CAR to en­ter hu­man test­ing as ear­ly as the first half 2017,” Juno CSO Hy Lev­it­sky told an­a­lysts. “We’re op­ti­mistic the CAR T cell ther­a­py can be an im­por­tant com­po­nent in treat­ing pa­tients with mul­ti­ple myelo­ma. And we are pleased to bring ad­di­tion­al ful­ly hu­man body do­main against BC­MA and oth­er tar­gets in­to our pro­gram. We be­lieve that a mul­ti-pronged ap­proach may be nec­es­sary to treat this dis­ease and hence the im­por­tance of ac­cess to sev­er­al hu­man con­structs spe­cif­ic for more than one tar­get.”

This isn’t the first such pact that Juno and Eu­re­ka have struck. Back at the be­gin­ning of the year the two com­pa­nies struck a deal on a ful­ly hu­man bind­ing do­main that tar­gets MUC16. These bind­ing do­mains play a key role in im­prov­ing cell per­sis­tence, amp­ing up their ef­fect on pa­tients. And the in­tense ri­val­ry to dom­i­nate the first wave of com­mer­cial CAR-Ts to hit the mar­ket has spurred an arms race for the best tech with the most po­ten­tial.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.