Covid-19 roundup: CDER pon­ders a move to vir­tu­al ad­comms; con­ser­v­a­tive group urges eas­i­er ac­cess to hy­drox­y­chloro­quine

It’s all hands on the vir­tu­al deck at the FDA. And the folks at CDER are con­sid­er­ing set­ting up a new on­line ap­proach to hold­ing ad­comm meet­ings go­ing for­ward.

Mark Senak, who writes the Eye on FDA blog, posed a se­ries of ques­tions for CDER, in­clud­ing one on ad­comms, which are be­ing in­ter­rupt­ed as the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic spreads in the US and around the globe.

As of now, the FDA is can­cel­ing all non-es­sen­tial meet­ings at the agency, in­clud­ing the ad­comms, through April. But CDER does see a pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ty for go­ing vir­tu­al — a big deal in an in­dus­try that re­lies on these meet­ings to keep its R&D strat­e­gy in­tact.

Here’s the ex­change be­tween Senak and CDER on the ad­comms:

Does FDA plan on at­tempt­ing vir­tu­al ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee meet­ings?

As this re­mains a dy­nam­ic sit­u­a­tion, we will con­tin­ue to as­sess and cal­i­brate our ap­proach. Where pos­si­ble the agency will lever­age tech­nol­o­gy to host meet­ings al­low­ing for re­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion. We thank you for your pa­tience. In con­sid­er­ing nec­es­sary steps for pro­tecting pub­lic health, in­clud­ing our spon­sors, our com­mit­tee mem­bers and our work­force, we are can­celling or post­pon­ing all non-es­sen­tial meet­ings through the month of April. We will re­assess on an on-go­ing ba­sis for fu­ture months. Where pos­si­ble the agency will lever­age tech­nol­o­gy to host meet­ings al­low­ing for re­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion.

→ A con­ser­v­a­tive group called the Job Cre­ators Net­work — which in­cludes Home De­pot co-founder Bernard Mar­cus as a key backer — is call­ing on Pres­i­dent Trump to clear away the “red tape” and make hy­drox­y­chloro­quine more eas­i­ly avail­able.

The drug is fre­quent­ly cit­ed by Trump as a pos­si­ble short-term panacea for the Covid-19 out­break. It’s al­so un­cer­tain whether it will help at all or cause more dam­age than good — some­thing that is be­ing test­ed in a clin­i­cal pro­gram now. In the mean­time, it’s be­come one of the most pop­u­lar drugs avail­able, mak­ing sup­plies scarce. And that’s what the group wants Trump to fix.

“We’re not ad­vo­cat­ing that peo­ple should take the drug,” a spokesper­son told the Wall Street Jour­nal. “We’re ad­vo­cat­ing that doc­tors should have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to pre­scribe it if they want to do so. The prob­lem is no one can find it. It’s a sup­ply-side is­sue.”

→ British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son has test­ed pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus — on Wednes­day, he ad­dressed Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in the House of Com­mons.

→An­oth­er set of drug de­vel­op­ers have thrown their hat in­to the an­ti-Covid-19 ring. In ad­di­tion to pro­grams from Mod­er­na, which is al­lied with the NIH — and BioN­Tech, as well as Cure­VacSanofi is al­so work­ing on an mR­NA vac­cine ap­proach with Trans­late Bio, in ad­di­tion to its pre­vi­ous­ly un­veiled tra­di­tion­al vac­cine pro­gram. (End­points Link)

Hep B vac­cine mak­er Dy­navax is al­so work­ing on a vac­cine, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land as part of a Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness (CEPI) ini­tia­tive.

→ Ex­ist­ing di­ag­nos­tic tests bank on PCR tech­nol­o­gy, which is en­gi­neered to hone in on the virus’ RNA genome. How­ev­er, if the per­son re­cov­ers from the coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion, that ev­i­dence dis­ap­pears. How­ev­er, an­ti­body tests — which re­ly on blood in­stead of nasal or throat swabs — are ex­pect­ed to re­veal who has had the in­fec­tion but was asymp­to­matic and has re­cov­ered. Once col­lect­ed, this in­for­ma­tion will re­veal the full scope of the pan­dem­ic and in­form con­tain­ment strate­gies across the globe. It will al­so help re­searchers work­ing on plas­ma ther­a­pies, which re­quire blood from sur­vivors.

New York-based Hen­ry Schein on Thurs­day said it was mak­ing avail­able an an­ti­body test (green­lit by the FDA un­der emer­gency guid­ance), which de­liv­ers re­sults with­in 15 min­utes from a pin­prick with no in­stru­men­ta­tion re­quired. The com­pa­ny ex­pects to have at least sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand tests avail­able by March 30 and sig­nif­i­cant­ly in­creased avail­abil­i­ty be­gin­ning in April, it said.

Mean­while, the Unit­ed King­dom is work­ing on its own an­ti­body tests; sci­en­tists in Sin­ga­pore have used to trace chains of trans­mis­sion, and the CDC re­port­ed­ly has plans for its own.

Iron­wood Phar­ma, which sells the bow­el drug Linzess with part­ner Al­ler­gan, said the pan­dem­ic is im­pact­ing en­roll­ment in its late-stage gas­troe­sophageal re­flux dis­ease tri­al. Near­ly 70% of the en­roll­ment tar­get has been hit, but the com­pa­ny no longer ex­pects to re­port top-line da­ta in the sec­ond half of 2020.

→ A glove short­age is re­port­ed­ly loom­ing, as Malaysia — the coun­try that dom­i­nates pro­duc­tion — reels from staff cuts in plants as a re­sult of a lock­down in the re­gion.

→ The US mil­i­tary, ac­cord­ing to Reuters, plans to stop dis­clos­ing some of the more “gran­u­lar da­ta” about in­fec­tions with­in its ranks, fear­ing the in­for­ma­tion may be used by ad­ver­saries.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, 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.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

Covid-19 roundup: RE­COV­ERY tri­al halts re­cruit­ment for colchicine study af­ter find­ing ‘no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence’; Italy blocks As­traZeneca vac­cine ship­ment meant for Aus­tralia

It may be the end of the road for colchicine, an inexpensive oral anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat gout, as a potential Covid-19 treatment — at least in hospitalized patients.

The UK’s RECOVERY trial put out the word on Friday that it’s halting enrollment in its colchicine study after a data monitoring committee saw “no convincing evidence that further recruitment would provide conclusive proof of worthwhile mortality benefit either overall or in any pre-specified subgroup.”

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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Brii Bio joins the NIH grave­yard along­side GSK, Lil­ly af­ter flop­ping an­ti­body study in hos­pi­tal­ized Covid-19 pa­tients

Just a day after GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology’s Covid-19 antibody fell flat in an NIH-sponsored trial for hospitalized patients, researchers have ejected another therapy from the study. Is this the death knell for monoclonal antibodies for those patients?

An antibody cocktail from Brii Biosciences failed to show a trend toward clinical benefit in the NIH’s ACTIV-3 trial, and as a result, did not meet criteria for further enrollment. As such, the NIH shut down the study subgroup evaluating the program Thursday, which contains the two Brii antibodies dubbed BRII-196 and BRII-198.