Cel­gene antes up $55M, grabs op­tion to buy the au­toim­mune up­start Anokion

Jef­frey Hubbell, Anokion

Cel­gene’s glo­be­trot­ting busi­ness de­vel­op­ment team has fo­cused on au­toim­mune dis­eases for its lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion/op­tion-to-buy biotech deal.

The fo­cus this time: Anokion, a spin­out of the Ecole Poly­tech­nique Fédérale de Lau­sanne. The biotech has been work­ing on anti­gen-spe­cif­ic im­mune tol­er­ance tech to re­train the im­mune sys­tem to ig­nore the rogue sig­nals that spark an au­toim­mune re­sponse against healthy tis­sue while al­so re­struc­tur­ing pro­tein ther­a­pies to make them in­vis­i­ble to the im­mune sys­tem, pos­si­bly open­ing a path to us­ing some ther­a­pies that have been dis­card­ed in the past af­ter they trig­gered an im­mune re­sponse.

In the deal, Cel­gene is hand­ing over $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing an­oth­er $10 mil­lion for un­spec­i­fied pre­clin­i­cal work.

Jeff Hubbell, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go as well as CSO and chair­man of the com­pa­ny, came up with the idea of dec­o­rat­ing red blood cells with spe­cif­ic anti­gens in vi­vo, train­ing the body to tol­er­ate what had been in­tol­er­a­ble. But over the last 18 months, the biotech’s R&D team, based in Cam­bridge, MA (the com­pa­ny’s HQ is in Lau­sanne) has been de­vel­op­ing an­oth­er ap­proach cen­tered on the liv­er that can al­so in­duce im­mune tol­er­ance.

Tom Woi­wode, Ver­sant

“To in­duce anti­gen spe­cif­ic tol­er­ance has been the Holy Grail for 20 years,” says Ver­sant’s Tom Woi­wode, who’s on the board.

Now, in­stead of rais­ing a Se­ries B, the Anokion team can use non di­lu­tive cash to work their way through both ap­proach­es, study­ing mul­ti­ple tar­gets. One ob­vi­ous tar­get that Cel­gene is in­trigued by, says Hubbell, is mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

In its deal with Cel­gene, Anokion re­mains in charge of R&D un­til the Big Biotech makes a de­ci­sion whether or not to pull the trig­ger on an ac­qui­si­tion. Ver­sant’s Woi­wode says this deal does not come with a pre­set buy­out fig­ure. That num­ber would still have to be ne­go­ti­at­ed in a deal that es­sen­tial­ly gives Cel­gene the right of first re­fusal for do­ing a deal.

Cel­gene’s mon­ey will now back an ex­pan­sion of the Anokion team in Cam­bridge to about 30 peo­ple, who are still fac­ing a 3.5- to 4-year trek for pre­clin­i­cal work. Hubbell tells me that the biotech has worked through some good mouse mod­els on au­toim­mune con­di­tions, and more work has yet to be done on non-hu­man pri­mates be­fore they can get start­ed on a hu­man study.

Astel­las was al­so deeply im­pressed with the work, and in 2015 set up a new com­pa­ny with Anokion called Kanyos Bio to use the plat­form tech to cre­ate new drugs for di­a­betes as well as celi­ac dis­ease. That oth­er com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue its work in Cam­bridge, MA.

Anokion raised a $37.5 mil­lion Se­ries A back in 2014 from Ver­sant, which seed­ed the com­pa­ny, along with No­vo Ven­tures and fel­low Swiss com­pa­ny No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

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For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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