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Join­ing No­var­tis in siR­NA space, As­traZeneca hands Si­lence $80M up­front for dis­cov­ery deal

Mene Pangalos is doubling down on RNA-based technologies for his side of the AstraZeneca R&D machine.

Just two months after bringing a small activating RNA (saRNA) program into its fold, Pangalos now has his eyes on Silence Therapeutics’ small interfering RNA (siRNA) platform. Calling it an “exciting new modality” for the pharma giant’s drug discovery toolbox, AstraZeneca has shelled out $60 million in cash and purchased $20 million worth of Silence’s stock on the London exchange.

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How to build CAR–M: Carl June pro­tégé and his biotech pub­lish first ev­i­dence in Na­ture Biotech­nol­o­gy

Michael Klichinsky joined the University of Pennsylvania for his PhD at the height of the revolution.

It was 2014, and though the CAR-T therapy that would make Penn professor Carl June famous would not be approved for four years, it had already caused headline-grabbing remissions in a small handful of patients. Klichinsky turned down offers from other elite universities to take a spot between June’s lab and colleague Saar Gill’s lab.

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Sean McCarthy (CytomX)

Astel­las em­pow­ers new­ly en­er­gized Cy­tomX with $80M up­front to get pre­clin­i­cal bis­pe­cif­ic work go­ing

In the latest upswing on the CytomX roller coaster ride, Astellas is stoking the waning flames of its platform tech with $80 million upfront and a new partnership.

Specifically, the Japanese pharma is interested in applying the Probody tech on T cell engaging bispecific cancer therapies — a path that Amgen has also traveled down. Astellas is funding research and discovery up to clinical candidate selection, at which point it will take over. With $1.6 billion in milestones on the table for a number of unnamed targets, CytomX has the option to co-fund part of the clinical development for several programs in exchange for profit-share or co-commercialization.

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Jennifer Pietenpol (Joe Howell for Vanderbilt)

Back to the draw­ing board for triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer tar­gets, re­searchers pro­pose new com­bo ap­proach

The reason why triple-negative breast cancer is such a tough disease to treat is largely given away in its name. Such tumors can’t be defined by traditional biomarkers — neither estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, nor excess HER2 protein — forcing drug hunters down uncharted new pathways.

Researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center explored one of them, and turned up with some new suggestions.

NIH director Francis Collins [via Getty Images]

'Dra­mat­ic times': How did an $8B surge in NIH grants over five years change re­search on the ground (if at all)?

Ebola. Sickle cell disease. Spinal muscular atrophy. Cystic fibrosis.

Behind each disease was a medical breakthrough that Francis Collins highlighted at the congressional hearing on the president’s 2021 NIH budget request, a yearly opportunity to update lawmakers on his agency’s progress and priorities. Thanks to three decades of research that dates in part back to his own NIH-backed work at the University of Michigan, for instance, the US has ushered in its first triple therapy for cystic fibrosis last year.

“These are dramatic times for NIH research,” the director concluded.

Bolstering the burst in new scientific discovery and therapeutic development has been an impressive growth in NIH funding. President Donald Trump may be proposing to cut its budget down 7% next year, but over the past five years it has increased by $11.6 billion, or 39%, according to Rep Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education. That has translated to a $8 billion boost to the total amount of grants awarded between 2014 and 2019, per NIH disclosure.

“The steady increases you have provided have brought new life to biomedical research and built the foundation for us to take on new and unexpected challenges,” Collins said, “challenges like the one that’s on everyone’s mind right now: the global coronavirus outbreak.”

What does this new life look like on the ground? Endpoints News spoke to researchers, administrators and advocates, who pointed to different metrics that either measure output or the environment that scientists find themselves working in. The conversations suggest while the increases — which followed years of stagnation — did pump more resources into translatioal research, they didn’t quite solve the challenges basic science still faces.

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Mi­cro­bio­me Q&A: New study maps the vagi­na's 'op­ti­mal mi­cro­bio­ta' — and its im­pli­ca­tions for bio­phar­ma

The widely-held notion that the “optimal” vaginal microbiota is dominated by one strain of lactic-acid producing bacteria has now been challenged in a new paper, published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, which used advanced gene sequencing methods to map out the most comprehensive gene catalog of the human vaginal microbiome.

Things have changed in the more than 50 years since the concept of vaginal microbiota transplants was proposed and subsequently tainted by a Texas-based gynecologist who transplanted the vaginal fluid of women who had bacterial vaginosis into healthy females, suspecting he had isolated the bacteria responsible for the condition.

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Laurie Glimcher and Ansbert Gadicke (Justin Knight, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

Ty­ing ba­sic sci­ence to spin­outs, Dana-Far­ber de­buts sis­ter funds to­tal­ing $126M with MPM Cap­i­tal

As one of the most prestigious cancer institutes in the US, Dana-Farber has enjoyed considerable support for its entrepreneurial pursuits, spinning out about 30 companies in the past 12 years.

“Now where we’ve always struggled — where every cancer center struggled — is support of basic science,” Barrett Rollins, chief scientific officer emeritus, told Endpoints News.

And then two of its trustees had an idea. What if they tied philanthropy to investment in Dana-Farber startups, requiring a donation to basic science as a condition for accessing its brightest biotech venture ideas?

Sci­en­tists find un­ex­pect­ed an­ti-can­cer ac­tiv­i­ty in range of non-on­col­o­gy drugs — study

As the second leading cause of mortality globally, the lucrative field of cancer treatment has elicited a frenzy of drug development and billions in venture funding. But a new study suggests that cancer-killing compounds may be lurking in the existing arsenal of non-oncology medicines.

By analyzing thousands of FDA-approved drugs and compounds that have been proven safe in clinical trials, scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found nearly 50 compounds — including drugs for diabetes, inflammation, alcoholism and even a treatment for arthritis in dogs — with previously undetected anti-cancer activity.

Dafna Bar-Sagi (Sasha Nialla, NYU Langone Health)

How pan­cre­at­ic RAS tu­mors pro­tect them­selves. Re­searchers point to a new pro­tein — and maybe a new treat­ment

A couple years back, some cardiovascular specialists at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital stumbled across a surprising result.

Novartis had tasked them with carrying out the long-range Phase III trial for canakinumab, an experimental anti-inflammatory drug the company was trying to market for cardiovascular disease. The main results were mixed — modest reductions in fatal cardiovascular events, clear side effects — but an additional, exploratory analysis, turned heads over in oncology: Across 10,061 patients, those who had received canakinumab were less likely to develop lung cancer; 33% less likely for the highest dosage.

Jeannie Lee explains her epigenetic research after she was selected as the 2016 winner of the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences. (Foundation for the National Institutes of Health via YouTube)

HH­MI dis­crim­i­nat­ed against two Asian Amer­i­can women in­ves­ti­ga­tors, law­suits al­lege

Howard Hughes Medical Institute — the noted nonprofit known for doling out generous investigator awards to researchers all around the US — is facing lawsuits by two Asian American biologists who allege they were unfairly denied renewal of grants because of their sex, age, national origin or disability.

Meredith Wadman of Science first reported the lawsuits, which according to legal experts and several other Asian American women who were discontinued as HHMI investigators reflect a pattern of prejudice at the organization. They also come amid a general increase in awareness about the obstacles women in life sciences face in their careers. Earlier this year, the Salk Institute in San Diego came under fire after in which female faculty members claim an “old boys’ club” of seniors restricted their access to funds, resources and networks.