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.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Am­gen sev­ers 14-year Cy­to­ki­net­ics part­ner­ship, bail­ing on ome­cam­tiv af­ter mixed PhI­II re­sults

Amgen is shrugging off a 14-year development alliance and the tens of millions of dollars spent to develop a new heart drug at Cytokinetics after a Phase III trial turned up weak data — leaving Cytokinetics to soldier on alone.

Omecamtiv mecarbil technically worked, meeting the primary composite endpoint in the Phase III GALACTIC-HF study. But it missed a key secondary endpoint, which analysts had been following as a key marker for success — reduction of cardiovascular (CV) death. While Cytokinetics celebrated the results, its stock tanked 43% upon the news, and analysts warned of an uncertain path ahead. Now, Amgen wants out.

Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.