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.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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The home run count: The $100M+ mega-round boom in biotech in­spired a $6.7B feed­ing fren­zy — so far this year

Over the last 6 months there’s been a blizzard of money piling up drifts of the green stuff through the biotech landscape. And the forecast calls for more cash windfalls ahead.

Even as a global pandemic has killed more than half a million people, blighted economies and divided nations over the proper response, it’s also helped ignite an unprecedented burst of big-time investing. And not just in Covid-19 deals, as we’ve looked at before.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Atul Deshpande, Harbour BioMed chief strategy officer & head, US operations (Harbour BioMed)

An­oth­er biotech IPO set-up? Multi­na­tion­al biotech leaps from round to round, scoop­ing up cash at a blis­ter­ing pace

A short four months after announcing a $75 million haul in Series B+ fundraising, the multinational biotech Harbour BioMed pulled in another round of investments and eclipsed the nine-digit mark in the process.

Harbour completed its Series C financing, the company announced Thursday morning, raising $102.8 million and bringing its total investment sum to over $300 million since its founding in late 2016. The biotech plans to use the money to transition early-stage candidates from the discovery phase, fund candidates already in the clinic, and prep late-stage candidates for commercialization.

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For­bion spot­lights late-stage plays, carves out new €250M growth fund

Having staked its rep on picking out a mix of biotech investment opportunities across the “build,” “enable,” “growth” continuum, Forbion is launching its first fund dedicated to late-stage opportunities.

Forbion Growth Opportunities Fund’s first close brought in €185 million ($208 million). Existing investors Pantheon, KfW Capital and the European Investment Fund came on board, joined by new backers Eli Lilly, Horizon Therapeutics, Belgian Growth Fund and New Waves Investments.

Mer­ck ex­pands scope of Zymeworks an­ti­body al­liance, adding close to $900M in mile­stones

Nearly a decade after first partnering with Merck, Vancouver-based biotech Zymeworks has expanded its collaboration with the pharma giant once again.

Zymeworks re-upped with Merck in a new licensing agreement, granting the New Jersey pharma giant the right to develop up to 3 additional multispecific antibody candidates. In exchange, the biotech will receive an undisclosed upfront payment — Merck is always loath to discuss cash terms — and nearly $900 million in combined regulatory ($411 million) and commercial ($480 million) milestones.

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Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A new study points to $6.5B in pub­lic sup­port build­ing the sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion of Gilead­'s remde­sivir. Should that be re­flect­ed in the price?

By drug R&D standards, Gilead’s move to repurpose remdesivir for Covid-19 and grab an emergency use authorization was a remarkably easy, low-cost layup that required modest efficacy and a clean safety profile from just a small group of patients.

The drug OK also arrived after Gilead had paid much of the freight on getting it positioned to move fast.

In a study by Fred Ledley, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, researchers concluded that the NIH had invested only $46.5 million in the research devoted to the drug ahead of the pandemic, a small sum compared to the more than $1 billion Gilead expected to spend getting it out this year, all on top of what it had already cost in R&D expenses.

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Ed Engleman (Stanford Blood Center)

Stan­ford star on­col­o­gy sci­en­tist Ed En­gle­man helped cre­ate the im­munother­a­py field. Now he wants to shake up neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion R&D

Over the last generation of drug R&D, Ed Engleman has been a standout scientist.

The Stanford professor co-founded Dendreon and provided the scientific insights needed to develop Provenge into a pioneering — though not particularly marketable — immunotherapy. He’s spurred a slate of startups, assisted by his well-connected perch as a co-founder of Vivo Capital, and took the dendritic cell story into its next chapter at a startup called Bolt.

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Nello Mainolfi (Kymera via YouTube)

Out to re­vive R&D, a resur­gent Sanofi pays $150M cash to part­ner up with a pi­o­neer­ing pro­tein degra­da­tion play­er

Frank Nestle was appointed Sanofi’s global head of immunology and inflammation research therapeutic area just days before dupilumab, the blockbuster-to-be IL-4 antibody, would be accepted for priority review. After four years of consolidating immunology expertise from multiple corners of the Sanofi family and recruiting new talents to build the discovery engine, he’s set eyes on a Phase I-ready program that he believes can grow into a Dupixent-sized franchise.