Can­cer R&D stars Jim Al­li­son, Tasuku Hon­jo award­ed No­bel prize for im­munother­a­py dis­cov­er­ies

Im­munother­a­py pi­o­neers James Al­li­son and Tasuku Hon­jo has joint­ly won the 2018 No­bel prize in phys­i­ol­o­gy and med­i­cine “for their dis­cov­ery of can­cer ther­a­py by in­hi­bi­tion of neg­a­tive im­mune reg­u­la­tion.”

Al­li­son, now a pro­fes­sor at MD An­der­son and an af­fil­i­ate of the Park­er In­sti­tute, came to fame for his pi­o­neer­ing idea to un­leash a T cell at­tack on can­cer cells by block­ing the pro­tein CT­LA-4. Hon­jo, a long­time fac­ul­ty at Ky­oto Uni­ver­si­ty, is cred­it­ed with the dis­cov­ery of PD-1 on the sur­face of T cells — which has been the ba­sis of most check­point ther­a­pies cur­rent­ly on the mar­ket.

While care­ful to note their ad­verse ef­fects and short­com­ings, the No­bel As­sem­bly at Karolin­s­ka In­sti­tutet ap­plauds the two sci­en­tists for achiev­ing land­mark dis­cov­er­ies in the fight against can­cer.

For more than 100 years sci­en­tists at­tempt­ed to en­gage the im­mune sys­tem in the fight against can­cer. Un­til the sem­i­nal dis­cov­er­ies by the two lau­re­ates, progress in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment was mod­est. Check­point ther­a­py has now rev­o­lu­tion­ized can­cer treat­ment and has fun­da­men­tal­ly changed the way we view how can­cer can be man­aged.

Al­li­son went on to spear­head the de­vel­op­ment of an CT­LA-block­ing an­ti­body called ip­il­i­mum­ab, which is now sold by Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb un­der the brand name Yer­voy to treat metasta­t­ic melanoma. He con­tin­ues to be ac­tive in a new wave of biotechs search­ing for drugs elud­ed by check­point ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Neon Ther­a­peu­tics and Jounce Ther­a­peu­tics.

Al­most three decades af­ter Al­li­son and Hon­jo first made their dis­cov­er­ies in the lab, check­point With six PD-1/L1 agents now on the mar­ket — Re­gen­eron and Sanofi got a quick OK for their lat­est con­tender just this past Fri­day — the glob­al pipeline is brim­ming with at least 163 PD-1/L1 in­hibitors and hun­dreds more im­muno-on­col­o­gy drug can­di­dates, many tar­get­ing CT­LA-4 in com­bo stud­ies.

A high-pro­file fig­ure at sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ences, Al­li­son has a le­gion of friends and col­leagues hap­py to cheer the news.

I’m just thrilled for him, as a friend and as a sci­en­tist,” said Fred Rams­dell, Ph.D., vice pres­i­dent of re­search at the Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py and a col­league of James Al­li­son’s for decades. “It’s re­al­ly grat­i­fy­ing to see that the No­bel Com­mit­tee chose to award the prize for the fun­da­men­tal re­search that ul­ti­mate­ly led to a par­a­digm shift in clin­i­cal can­cer ther­a­py that has saved so many lives.”

Al­li­son and Hon­jo will share the prize — rough­ly $1 mil­lion (9 mil­lion Swedish kro­nor) — and de­liv­er lec­tures in Stock­holm at the No­bel cer­e­mo­ny this De­cem­ber.


Im­age: Jim Al­li­son and Tasuku Hon­jo. MD AN­DER­SON, UCSD

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Joe Papa (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Joe Pa­pa re­signs as chair of Bausch Health as bil­lion­aire John Paul­son takes over

Joe Papa, chair of Bausch Health, officially resigned on Thursday and the board appointed billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson as the new chair, effective immediately.

The specialty pharma company sought to make clear that Papa’s abrupt departure “was not due to any dispute or disagreement with the Company, its management or the Board on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices.”

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images)

Phar­ma-friend­ly sen­a­tor calls on FDA for a third time to show patent pro­tec­tions should­n't be blamed for high drug prices

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis made a name for himself in the 2020 election cycle as the darling of the pharma industry, accepting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions, even from the likes of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Those contributions have led Tillis to attempt to re-write patent laws in pharma’s favor, a move which failed to gain steam in 2019, and request for a third time since January that the FDA should help stop “the false narrative that patent protections are to blame for high drug prices.”

EMA signs off on 3 drugs re­cent­ly re­ject­ed by FDA, in­clud­ing Bio­Mar­in's new he­mo­phil­ia gene ther­a­py

The EMA’s human medicines committee on Friday recommended three new drugs for approval or conditional approval, even as their US counterparts have rejected these three for various reasons.

In a major move, CHMP offered a thumbs-up to a conditional marketing authorization for the first gene therapy to treat severe hemophilia A, although the agency cautioned that it’s so far unknown how long the effects of infusion will last.

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