René Salazar (Broad Institute)

Broad In­sti­tute hires René Salazar to tack­le bio­med­ical re­search's di­ver­si­ty prob­lem

Amid ur­gent calls to di­ver­si­fy the biotech in­dus­try, the Broad In­sti­tute of MIT and Har­vard is bring­ing on a new chief eq­ui­ty of­fi­cer who promis­es to start from the “top-down and ground-up.”

René Salazar, for­mer as­sis­tant dean for di­ver­si­ty and pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas in Austin’s Dell Med­ical School, is now lead­ing di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion ef­forts at the Broad, the in­sti­tute an­nounced on Wednes­day. And he’s not wast­ing any time — the new hire is help­ing or­ga­nize a day­long vir­tu­al sym­po­sium called Be­long­ing@Broad be­ing held on Mon­day.

“I look for­ward to bring­ing to­geth­er every­one who is work­ing to build an in­clu­sive com­mu­ni­ty at Broad,” he said in a state­ment, “In par­tic­u­lar, I look for­ward to hav­ing open con­ver­sa­tions about how racism and oth­er forms of op­pres­sion im­pair sci­ence and, most im­por­tant­ly, how to help find so­lu­tions.”

The Texas na­tive earned his med­ical de­gree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas Health San An­to­nio in 1999, then com­plet­ed his in­tern­ship and res­i­den­cy in in­ter­nal med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co. He fol­lowed that up with a one-year Lati­no health dis­par­i­ties re­search fel­low­ship, which led in­to a 12-year teach­ing ca­reer at UCSF. Start­ing in 2007, he be­came the di­rec­tor of di­ver­si­ty for the Of­fice of Grad­u­ate Med­ical Ed­u­ca­tion.

In 2016, the pro­fes­sor left UCSF and flew back to his home state for a po­si­tion at the Dell Med­ical School. And the rest is his­to­ry.

At the Broad, Salazar will lead the In­clu­sion, Di­ver­si­ty, Eq­ui­ty, and Ally­ship (IDEA) Of­fice. His hir­ing comes as the pan­dem­ic casts a harsh spot­light on the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try’s lack of di­ver­si­ty. Of the 53 drugs ap­proved in 2020, Black pa­tients rep­re­sent­ed on­ly about 8% of par­tic­i­pants in the tri­als reg­u­la­tors based their de­ci­sions on (and for which da­ta on race were col­lect­ed). To put that in per­spec­tive, Black Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent about 13% of the US pop­u­la­tion.

Lat­inx/His­pan­ic par­tic­i­pants made up just un­der 13% of clin­i­cal tri­als for ap­proved drugs last year, and Asian par­tic­i­pants just over 6%.

Some say solv­ing bio­phar­ma’s di­ver­si­ty prob­lem be­gins with di­ver­si­fy­ing the com­pa­nies them­selves. But while most drug­mak­ers list di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion as one of their key val­ues, 67% of them saw lit­tle or no change in rep­re­sen­ta­tion by race or eth­nic­i­ty at the ex­ec­u­tive lev­el last year, ac­cord­ing to a BIO sur­vey.

“This work has to be top-down and ground-up, and I’ll work with lead­er­ship to build the skills to mean­ing­ful­ly move this work for­ward,” Salazar said. “At the same time, we need to con­tin­ue to break down bar­ri­ers and pro­mote a sense of be­long­ing for sci­en­tists and staff of col­or, women, and LGBTQIA+ in­di­vid­u­als, in ad­di­tion to those from oth­er groups that have his­tor­i­cal­ly been un­der­rep­re­sent­ed in the bio­med­ical sci­ences.”

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

Ugur Sahin, AP Images

As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.

No­var­tis dumps AveX­is pro­gram for Rett syn­drome af­ter fail­ing re­peat round of pre­clin­i­cal test­ing

Say goodbye to AVXS-201.

The Rett syndrome gene therapy drug made by AveXis — the biotech that was bought, kept separate, then renamed and finally absorbed by Novartis into its R&D division — has been dropped by the biopharma.

In Novartis’ third quarter financial report, the pharma had found that preclinical data did not support development of the gene therapy into IND-enabling trials and beyond. The announcement comes a year after Novartis told the Rett Society how excited it was by the drug — and its potential benefits and uses.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With San­doz con­tin­u­ing to drag on No­var­tis, Vas Narasimhan says he may fi­nal­ly be ready for a sale or spin­off

After years of rehab work aimed at getting Sandoz in fighting trim to compete in a market overshadowed by declining prices, CEO Vas Narasimhan took a big step toward possibly selling or spinning off the giant generic drug player.

The pharma giant flagged plans to launch a strategic review of the business in its Q3 update, noting that “options range from retaining the business to separation.”

Analysts have been poking and prodding Novartis execs for years now as Narasimhan attempted to remodel a business that has been a drag on its performance during most of his reign in the CEO suite. The former R&D chief has made it well known that he’s devoted to the innovative meds side of the business, where they see the greatest potential for growth.

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FDA is much worse than its reg­u­la­to­ry peers at proac­tive­ly dis­clos­ing da­ta, re­searchers find

The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada continue to outpace the FDA when it comes to proactively releasing data on drugs and biologics the agency has reviewed, leading to further questions of why the American agency can’t be more transparent.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, Yale and other academic lawyers and researchers found that between 2016 and April 2021, the EMA proactively released data for 123 unique medical products, while Health Canada proactively released data for 73 unique medical products between 2019 and April 2021. What’s more, the EMA and Health Canada didn’t proactively release the same data on the same drugs. In stark contrast, the FDA in 2018 only proactively disclosed data supporting one drug that was approved that year.

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James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

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ARCH-backed SciNeu­ro kicks off search for CNS au­toan­ti­bod­ies with new deal; Mer­ck + Gilead an­nounce PhII tri­al for HIV com­bo

From the very beginning at SciNeuro, CEO Min Li has envisioned a mix of licensing deals and scientific efforts to replicate the breakout success of China’s oncology companies in neuroscience.

The GlaxoSmithKline vet has now inked a deal that somewhat straddles the line between the two strategies.

Teaming up with Mabylon out of Zurich, SciNeuro is now looking to test the hypothesis that the human immune system can play a role in fighting neurodegenerative diseases by discovering and developing human autoantibodies against neurological “targets of mutual interests.” The new partners offered TAR DNA binding protein-43 (TDP-43) and apolipoprotein E (APOE), which are linked to ALS and Alzheimer’s, as examples.