Frank Zhang (AP Images)

CAR-T fil­ing in sight, Frank Zhang grabs full con­trol of J&J-part­nered Leg­end Biotech, steps down from Gen­Script

Two months af­ter Yuan Xu steered Leg­end Biotech to a $424 mil­lion pub­lic de­but on the Nas­daq, founder and chair­man Frank Zhang is grab­bing the reins as CEO.

In con­junc­tion with the move, Zhang is al­so step­ping down from the helm of Gen­Script — a po­si­tion he’s held for 18 years. Gen­Script, a Hong Kong-list­ed CRO, hatched Leg­end as a sub­sidiary in 2015 be­fore spin­ning it out, and re­mains a ma­jor­i­ty share­hold­er.

“This shows how much com­mit­ment I have for Leg­end,” he said in a con­fer­ence call. “Over the past years, Leg­end has al­ways been un­der my watch. And I’m very in­ter­est­ed in see­ing how it will grow in the next few years.”

Now is the nat­ur­al time for a tran­si­tion as Leg­end and its part­ners at J&J gear up to ini­ti­ate a BLA fil­ing of their BC­MA-tar­get­ed CAR-T ther­a­py by the end of the year, with an EMA fil­ing to fol­low in ear­ly 2021.

“I can as­sure you that this CEO tran­si­tion has noth­ing to do with any change in the planned ac­tiv­i­ties for the JNJ-4528 pro­gram, in­clud­ing clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and al­so reg­u­la­to­ry plans,” CFO Ying Huang said in the call.

Hav­ing built up a re­sume fea­tur­ing a who’s who in Big Phar­ma — span­ning Genen­tech, Glax­o­SmithK­line, No­var­tis, Am­gen, Gilead and Mer­ck — Xu took the helm in 2018 and has been run­ning Leg­end out of New York. She stepped down for “per­son­al rea­sons,” ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease.

Zhang promised that the dai­ly op­er­a­tions and re­la­tion­ship with J&J should re­main in­tact.

Jef­feries an­a­lyst Biren Amin was con­vinced. While the EMA time­line marks a slight de­lay from the orig­i­nal plan, he’s not both­ered ei­ther.

“We think Leg­end pur­pose­ly takes ex­tra time to pre­pare a strong CMC pack­age, to stay on the safe side,” he said.

The com­pa­ny might have tak­en a page from ri­vals’ re­cent trou­bles, he added:

Re­call that BMS and BLUE re­ceived Re­fusal-To-File (RTF) let­ter by FDA for the BLA sub­mis­sion of ide-cel/bb2121 in Mar ’20 and re­sub­mit­ted at the end of Ju­ly, which caused a 4-mos de­lay in reg­u­la­to­ry path. FDA re­quired a sup­ple­men­tal doc­u­men­ta­tion of CMC to pro­vide de­tails on val­i­da­tion con­trol process, and we think Leg­end takes ac­tions to min­i­mize any po­ten­tial reg­u­la­to­ry risks.

MedTech clinical trials require a unique regulatory and study design approach and so engaging a highly experienced CRO to ensure compliance and accurate data across all stages is critical to development milestones.

In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

Avance Clinical is the Australian CRO for international biotechs providing world-class clinical research services with FDA-accepted data across all phases. With Avance Clinical, biotech companies can leverage Australia’s supportive clinical trials environment which includes no IND requirement plus a 43.5% Government incentive rebate on clinical spend. The CRO has been delivering clinical drug development services for international biotechs for FDA and EMA regulatory approval for the past 24 years. The company has been recognized for the past two consecutive years with the prestigious Frost & Sullivan CRO Best Practices Award and a finalist in Informa Pharma’s Best CRO award for 2022.

Mathai Mammen (Rob Tannenbaum, Endpoints News at BIO 2018)

Math­ai Mam­men makes an abrupt ex­it as head of the big R&D group at J&J

In an after-the-bell shocker, J&J announced Monday evening that Mathai Mammen has abruptly exited J&J as head of its top-10 R&D group.

Recruited from Merck five years ago, where the soft-spoken Mammen was being groomed as the successor to Roger Perlmutter, he had been one of the top-paid R&D chiefs in biopharma. His group spent $12 billion last year on drug development, putting it in the top 5 in the industry.

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Illustration: Kim Ryu for Endpoints News

Why non-opi­oid pain drugs keep fail­ing — and what's next for the field

In 1938, Rita Levi-Montalcini was forced to move her lab into her bedroom in Turin, as Mussolini’s facist government expelled Jewish people from studying or working in schools in Italy. Levi-Montalcini, then just a few years out of medical school and using sewing needles as scalpels in her makeshift lab, would soon discover nerve growth factor, or NGF, in chicken embryos.

Her discoveries formed the basis of our understanding of the peripheral nervous system and how cells talk to each other, and Levi-Montalcini went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1986. Much later, NGF was hailed as a promising target for new pain therapies, with some analysts quoting an $11 billion market. However, the latest anti-NGF candidate, Pfizer and Eli Lilly’s tanezumab, was rejected by the FDA last year because of a side effect that dissolved bone in some of its patients.

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Ted Love, Global Blood Therapeutics CEO

Up­dat­ed: Pfiz­er scoops up Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics and its sick­le cell ther­a­pies for $5.4B

Pfizer is dropping $5.4 billion to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics.

Just ahead of the weekend, word got out that Pfizer was close to clinching a $5 billion buyout — albeit with other potential buyers still at the table. The pharma giant, flush with cash from Covid-19 vaccine sales, apparently got out on top.

The deal immediately swells Pfizer’s previously tiny sickle cell disease portfolio from just a Phase I program to one with an approved drug, Oxbryta, plus a whole pipeline that, if all approved, the company believes could make for a $3 billion franchise at peak.

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Bernhardt Zeiher, outgoing Astellas CMO (Astellas)

Q&A: Astel­las' re­tir­ing head of de­vel­op­ment re­flects on gene ther­a­py deaths

For anyone who’s been following discussions about the safety alarms surrounding the adeno-associated viruses (AAV) commonly used to deliver gene therapy, Astellas should be a familiar name.

The Japanese pharma — which bought out Audentes Therapeutics near the end of 2019 and later built a gene therapy unit around the acquisition — rocked the field when it reported three patient deaths in a trial testing AT132, the lead program from Audentes designed to treat a rare muscle disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy (XLMTM).

When the company restarted the trial, it adjusted the dose and instituted a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But tragically, the first patient to receive the new regimen died just weeks after administration. The therapy remains under clinical hold, and just weeks ago, Astellas flagged another safety-related hold for a separate gene therapy candidate. In the process of investigating the deaths, the company has also taken flak about the way it disclosed information.

Big questions remain — questions that can have big implications about the future of AAV gene therapies.

Bernhardt Zeiher did not imagine any of it when he first joined Astellas as the therapeutic area leader in inflammation, immunology and infectious diseases. But his ascent to chief medical officer and head of development coincided almost exactly with Astellas’ big move into gene therapy, putting him often in the driver’s seat to grapple with the setbacks.

As Zeiher prepares to retire next month after a 12-year tenure — leaving the unfinished tasks to his successor, a seasoned cancer drug developer — he chatted with Endpoints News, in part, to discuss the effort to understand what happened, lessons learned and the criticism along the way.

The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Endpoints: I want to also ask you a bit about the gene therapy efforts you’ve been working on. Astellas has really been at the forefront of discovering the safety concerns associated with AAV gene therapy. What’s that been like for you?

Zeiher: Well, I have to admit, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. We acquired Audentes. Huge amount of enthusiasm. What we saw with AT132 — that was the lead program in XLMTM — was just remarkable efficacy. I mean, kids who went from being on ventilators, not able to eat for themselves, sit up, do things like that, to off ventilators, walking, you know, really — one investigator called it this Lazarus-like effect. It was just really dramatic efficacy. And then to have the safety events that occurred. So they actually occurred within that first year of the acquisition. So we had the three patient deaths. Me and my organization became very, very much involved. In fact, Ed Conner, who had been the chief medical officer, he left after some of the deaths, but I stepped in as the kind of acting chief medical officer, we had another chief medical officer who was involved, and then we had a fourth death, and I became acting again for a period of time.

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

US weighs new route of ad­min­is­tra­tion for mon­key­pox vac­cine as cas­es climb — re­port

Less than a week after HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra declared monkeypox a national health emergency, reports have emerged that the US plans to extend its vaccine supply by opting for a different route of administration.

Officials are expected to call for intradermal injection of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine — the only shot approved specifically for monkeypox in the US — as opposed to subcutaneous injection, unnamed sources told both the New York Times and Washington Post on Tuesday.

'Messy at best': Is the US re­peat­ing the same Covid mis­steps with mon­key­pox mes­sag­ing?

When Kyle Planck first suspected he might have monkeypox in late June, he went to the CDC website and found six photos of different types of lesions. And that was about it for general public information.

Planck, who is a sixth-year PhD pharmacology researcher at Weill Cornell, kept looking though and found a separate part of the CDC website meant for healthcare professionals. There he found a medical slide deck with more pictures, professional journal articles and more details about symptoms and diagnosis.

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Andy Jassy, Amazon CEO (Isaac Brekken/AP Images for NFL, File)

Up­dat­ed: FDA slaps Ama­zon with a warn­ing let­ter for sell­ing OTC mole re­moval prod­ucts

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research on Tuesday released a warning letter sent last week to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in Seattle for selling mole removal products over-the-counter, or, as the FDA explains, “introducing, delivering, or causing the introduction or delivery into interstate commerce of products that are unapproved new drugs.”

“There are no over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can be legally sold for mole or skin tag removal, and FDA has safety concerns about drugs marketed OTC directly to consumers for these uses,” the agency said in its Aug. 4 warning.

Craig Thompson, Cerevance CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck makes first big splash for Alzheimer’s drug R&D since 2017 fail, ink­ing re­search pact with Cere­vance

For the first time since discontinuing its late-stage Alzheimer’s program, Merck has found promise on the path forward in the memory-robbing disease.

After a Phase III flop of its drug verubecestat, the New Jersey Big Pharma axed the study in early 2018. More than four years later, the company is ready to sign up for another pact to test the waters of the befuddling disease.

This time, there’s $1.1 billion in biobucks on the line and a target that its partner says no other biopharma is looking at en route to finding the next treatment for Alzheimer’s, a neuroscience field that has hit hurdle after hurdle for decades.

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