Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb brings Op­di­vo to a joint im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­gram with Nek­tar’s new T cell am­pli­fi­er

Six years ago, when Steve Dober­stein took over as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics, he set up a new bi­o­log­ics re­search group with an eye to ex­pand­ing on the biotech’s base of small mol­e­cules. The very first project they would un­der­take went on to be­come NK­TR-214, a pre­clin­i­cal bi­o­log­ic that the com­pa­ny be­lieves can play a role in im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

Steve Dober­stein

To­day, Nek­tar is pulling the wraps off a deal to col­lab­o­rate with Bris­tol-My­ers Squibbs’ I/O all­stars in R&D to see how their ex­per­i­men­tal drug match­es up with Op­di­vo, one of the lead­ers in the first wave of check­point in­hi­bi­tion.

“The com­bi­na­tion of the two med­ica­tions makes a tremen­dous amount of sense to me,” says Dober­stein. The same goes for Bris­tol-My­ers.

It’s easy to see why Bris­tol-My­ers would be in­ter­est­ed enough to foot half the costs of the up­com­ing work. Nek­tar has been run­ning an­i­mal stud­ies that demon­strat­ed their drug’s abil­i­ty to spur im­mune T cells to di­vide and ac­ti­vate, amp­ing up an im­mune re­sponse. Check­points dis­man­tle a can­cer cell’s de­fense sys­tem, leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to an at­tack. The syn­er­gies are ob­vi­ous. With the right check­point, which Bris­tol-My­ers feels it has, Nek­tar’s work has the po­ten­tial to “make cold tu­mors hot,” in Dober­stein’s words.

The work at Nek­tar cen­ters around a grow­ing un­der­stand of the role of the IL-2 path­way, says Dober­stein. If you hit the wrong IL-2 re­cep­tor, says the CSO, you’ll wind up trig­ger­ing reg­u­la­to­ry T cells, which sup­press the im­mune sys­tem. Hit the CD122 re­cep­tors, though, and you’ll amp up a T cell at­tack.

The plan now is to wrap up an on­go­ing safe­ty study, with some 30 sub­jects, and then branch out in­to 5 dif­fer­ent tu­mor types and 7 dif­fer­ent in­di­ca­tions, with a va­ri­ety of small ex­pan­sion stud­ies in each in the sec­ond half of 2017 to see if they can have an im­pact. Dober­stein sees po­ten­tial in all of them, though he doubts that they’ll hit on the full slate.

This is not your av­er­age col­lab­o­ra­tion sto­ry. There are no big biobucks in­volved. Every­body is hang­ing on to their rights. No one is plan­ning to con­quer block­buster mar­kets quite yet. But it is the kind of 50/50 ven­ture that Nek­tar likes for its first for­ay in­to the clin­ic. And it puts them at the same ta­ble as some of the best in the check­point busi­ness.

A joint steer­ing com­mit­tee is di­rect­ing the work, with plen­ty of in­put from BMS and Nek­tar in how things are done. Af­ter the first round, they can talk again about any piv­otal plans.

Im­muno-on­col­o­gy projects have been ex­plod­ing around the globe in re­cent months, and there’s some po­ten­tial here to do some­thing unique.

It’s a great place to start.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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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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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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