Robin Mansukhani, Deciduous Therapeutics CEO (Deciduous)

Can a rare im­mune cell of­fer the key to slow­ing down senes­cence? A Bay Area start­up looks to find out

For years, sci­en­tists have looked to curb ag­ing and chron­ic dis­eases by clear­ing de­funct cells with ir­repara­ble dam­age, al­so known as senes­cent cells. Drug­mak­ers like Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy have toiled over senolyt­ics to kill the stub­born cells. So when Robin Man­sukhani was told it could be done us­ing reawak­ened im­mune cells, he was in­trigued.

Senes­cence serves a pro­tec­tive func­tion. It oc­curs when cells are too dam­aged to keep di­vid­ing — for ex­am­ple, if they de­vel­op a can­cer­ous mu­ta­tion. But senes­cent cells al­so con­tribute to ag­ing and oth­er dis­eases, emit­ting tox­ic mol­e­cules that cause in­flam­ma­tion and tis­sue dam­age.

Anil Bhushan

Back in 2018, Man­sukhani was in­tro­duced to Anil Bhushan, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co, who was work­ing on a way to weaponize in­vari­ant Nat­ur­al Killer T (iNKT) cells against senes­cent cells to treat type 1 di­a­betes. iNKT cells act as a sort of sur­veil­lance sys­tem, elim­i­nat­ing for­eign cells, but be­come less ac­tive with age and oth­er fac­tors.

“I fol­lowed senes­cence for a long time, but I nev­er ever thought about it in the con­text of type 1 di­a­betes. So that da­ta just kind of knocked me aside,” Man­sukhani said.

He did his own re­search, then about six weeks lat­er teamed up with Bhushan to launch De­cid­u­ous Ther­a­peu­tics. While the team is no longer go­ing af­ter di­a­betes, they pub­lished a pa­per on Mon­day in Med link­ing in vi­vo iNKT cells with clear­ing senes­cent cells.

“These cells have long been of in­ter­est to peo­ple — they just, you know, haven’t re­al­ly fig­ured out what to do with them or what they re­al­ly do,” Man­sukhani, now CEO, said. “There was some­thing in the senes­cent cell that said, OK, there’s a foot­print here to an im­mune cell that’s go­ing to talk to this senes­cent cell and clear it out. And that’s where things get ex­cit­ing.”

iNK­Ts have two main at­trib­ut­es that make them an ap­peal­ing tar­get, Man­sukhani ex­plained. First, they have the same re­cep­tor, which doesn’t ap­pear on any oth­er cell in the body, al­low­ing a high lev­el of speci­fici­ty. And they al­so op­er­ate in a nat­ur­al neg­a­tive feed­back loop, that re­turns them to dor­man­cy af­ter a pe­ri­od of ac­tiv­i­ty.

“Us­ing iNKT-tar­get­ed ther­a­py can pig­gy­back on their ex­quis­ite, built-in speci­fici­ty,” Bhushan said in a state­ment.

Us­ing the ap­proach, the sci­en­tists were able to im­prove blood glu­cose lev­els in mice with di­et-in­duced obe­si­ty, and ex­tend the lives of mice with lung fi­bro­sis. Go­ing forth, Man­sukhani said the team is go­ing to look at things like chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and car­diac fi­bro­sis. He ex­pects to hit the clin­ic in mid-to-late 2023.

“The ra­tio­nale here was that, if this hap­pens nat­u­ral­ly in the body by the im­mune sys­tem, let’s just go back and un­der­stand that first, and then we can fig­ure out what to do with that in­for­ma­tion once we ac­tu­al­ly un­der­stand that un­der­ly­ing first prin­ci­ple,” he said.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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