Bris­tol-My­ers preps sec­ond check­point/can­cer vax com­bo study un­der its $1B Bavar­i­an Nordic pact

Paul Chap­lin, Bavar­i­an Nordic

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb is ready to launch its sec­ond com­bi­na­tion tri­al us­ing Bavar­i­an Nordic’s can­cer vac­cine Prost­vac.

Op­er­at­ing un­der a 2015 deal worth up to about a bil­lion dol­lars, in­ves­ti­ga­tors will com­bine Prost­vac with Yer­voy and Op­di­vo in 10 pa­tients with cas­tra­tion-re­sis­tant prostate can­cer. Then they’ll push en­roll­ment to 55 and divvy up the pa­tients in­to three co­horts, study­ing T cell in­fil­tra­tion in tu­mors with one-on-one com­bos or the triple.

The first tri­al in the part­ner­ship was be­gun last fall, test­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Prost­vac and Yer­voy in ear­ly prostate can­cer.

The the­o­ry here is sim­ple enough. Bris­tol-My­ers check­point drugs are de­signed to take the brakes off an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on can­cer cells while Prost­vac is de­signed to hit the gas. Can­cer vac­cines have proven to be large­ly too mild to gen­er­ate much of a clin­i­cal re­sponse in pa­tients, but re­searchers have the­o­rized that an en­hanced at­tack with check­point drugs could pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit.

The step for­ward in the pact is a plus for Bavar­i­an Nordic, which had to scrap plans for an IPO while fend­ing off an open short at­tack by Ker­ris­dale Cap­i­tal, which ridiculed Prost­vac and claimed that the Phase II da­ta it had tout­ed was large­ly an il­lu­sion due to a strik­ing­ly bad place­bo re­sponse.

We’ll know more lat­er this year when Bavar­i­an Nordic re­leas­es top-line da­ta from its Phase III prostate can­cer study.

The move al­so un­der­scores that Bris­tol-My­ers’ com­mit­ment to its check­point pro­gram, led by the CT­LA-4 and PD-1 drugs, re­mains as strong as ever as the com­pa­ny looks to get its groove back fol­low­ing a bit­ter set­back on non-small cell lung can­cer, which saw its ri­vals at Mer­ck leapfrog ahead with Keytru­da.

All the key check­point play­ers, in­clud­ing Genen­tech and Pfiz­er/Mer­ck KGaA, have been bar­rel­ing ahead with hun­dreds of com­bi­na­tion stud­ies, look­ing to grab the lead in var­i­ous niche can­cer mar­kets. That’s a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar op­por­tu­ni­ty no one wants to lose.

“There are now eleven on­go­ing stud­ies of Prost­vac across var­i­ous stages of prostate can­cer. In re­cent years, there has been a grow­ing in­ter­est in the eval­u­a­tion of the im­munother­a­py can­di­date in ear­li­er dis­ease stages, where the can­cer has not yet spread be­yond the prostate. We are ex­cit­ed to learn more about the po­ten­tial of Prost­vac for treat­ing this pop­u­la­tion, and to eval­u­ate the po­ten­tial syn­er­gis­tic ef­fects of com­bin­ing the vac­cine with check­point in­hibitors, as we be­lieve Prost­vac may en­hance the clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty of these drugs,” said Paul Chap­lin, Pres­i­dent & Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Bavar­i­an Nordic.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

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Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.