Covid-19 roundup — Re­gen­eron zooms in on cock­tail; BioN­Tech shares sky­rock­et on quick Pfiz­er al­liance

On the morn­ing af­ter the Bay Area or­dered res­i­dents of six coun­ties to “shel­ter in place” amid vary­ing lev­els of lock­down around the world, here are the lat­est in­dus­try up­dates:

— Lead­ing the hunt for an­ti­bod­ies that can neu­tral­ize the coro­n­avirus that caus­es Covid-19, Re­gen­eron said it’s as­sem­bled a large pool of can­di­dates — hun­dreds of an­ti­bod­ies — from which it will se­lect two to make a “cock­tail treat­ment.” While the an­ti­bod­ies are be­ing se­lect­ed, the com­pa­ny will get its Ve­lociMab plat­form in place to pre­pare cell lines for clin­i­cal-scale pro­duc­tion. Re­gen­eron en­vi­sions en­ter­ing hu­man stud­ies in a cou­ple months, with a goal to pro­duce “hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­phy­lac­tic dos­es per month” by the end of sum­mer. All of this comes a lit­tle over a month af­ter Re­gen­eron first threw its name in­to the coro­n­avirus R&D hat. Fol­low­ing this same ap­proach has led the biotech to an Ebo­la reg­i­men that best­ed three oth­er treat­ments. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing an­ti­bod­ies that can serve both as treat­ment and as a pro­phy­lax­is be­fore peo­ple are ex­posed to SARS-CoV-2 (an ap­proach Vir is al­so tak­ing), Re­gen­eron has al­so rushed its IL-6 drug Kez­vara — ap­proved for arthri­tis — in­to a late-stage tri­al test­ing its abil­i­ty to tack­le the lung in­flam­ma­tion that re­sults from the vi­ral in­fec­tion.

Ash­leigh Palmer

— Al­most a year ago Proven­tion Bio be­gan what Jef­frey Blue­stone called the “re­al hard work” on the res­ur­rect­ed di­a­betes drug teplizum­ab, dos­ing the first pa­tient with new­ly di­ag­nosed type 1 di­a­betes with the an­ti-CD3 an­ti­body. The work has just got­ten hard­er as the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic is forc­ing the biotech to tem­porar­i­ly pause ran­dom­iz­ing and treat­ing new pa­tients — while those cur­rent­ly tak­ing the ther­a­py com­plete their course. This de­lay, though, does not hin­der Proven­tion’s plan to wrap up its rolling BLA sub­mis­sion for the at-risk pop­u­la­tion by the end of the year. That was part­ly sup­port­ed by Phase II da­ta sug­gest­ing teplizum­ab de­layed di­a­betes di­ag­noses for pa­tients who ap­pear poised to de­vel­op the dis­ease. The Phase III PRO­TECT study was de­signed to see if the drug could help pa­tients who al­ready have di­a­betes — such as to low­er their de­pen­dence on in­sulin. “Our de­ci­sion was not based on any study-re­lat­ed COVID-19 in­fec­tions or oth­er safe­ty events, but rather a pre­pon­der­ance of cau­tion re­lat­ing to the on­go­ing pan­dem­ic, and our con­cern for the well-be­ing of re­cent­ly di­ag­nosed T1D pe­di­atric pa­tients and their care­givers,” CEO Ash­leigh Palmer said in a state­ment. “The de­mands on med­ical in­sti­tu­tions and their clin­i­cians dur­ing this un­prece­dent­ed glob­al cri­sis were al­so a main con­sid­er­a­tion in this de­ci­sion.”

— Shut­downs are be­com­ing more com­mon, and they’ve been fill­ing the BioTwit­ter chan­nel:

— In the year of coro­n­avirus, there’s no time to dot every i and cross every t in a bio­phar­ma deal. Ear­ly Tues­day Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech $BN­TX were ready to hitch up on one of the big mes­sen­ger RNA vac­cine pro­grams aimed at the dev­as­tat­ing spread of Covid-19. And they made it clear they were rolling ahead of any for­mal sig­na­tures on a fi­nal con­tract. Qui­et­ly re­vealed just days ago, BioN­Tech says that BNT162 should be ready to go in the clin­ic by the end of next month. It fol­lows a lead­ing mR­NA ef­fort from Mod­er­na as well as a hur­ry-up project from Cure­Vac, where the re­volv­ing door at the CEO suite is spin­ning. The col­lab­o­ra­tion work starts now, with a plan to uti­lize mul­ti­ple R&D sites across both com­pa­nies in the US and Ger­many, where BioN­Tech is based. They ex­pect to fi­nal­ize the de­tails of their part­ner­ship in the next few weeks. If there are any ba­sics in the let­ter of agree­ment, they’re not talk­ing about it yet. In the mean­time, BioN­Tech’s shares rock­et­ed up 55%.

— In the spir­it of do­na­tions, Bio­gen said its phil­an­thropic arm has com­mit­ted $10 mil­lion to sup­port Covid-19 re­lief ef­forts in the US and around the world. “We are deeply af­fect­ed by the im­pact of COVID-19 glob­al­ly and we un­der­stand the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of ac­cess to test­ing and oth­er ma­te­ri­als to sup­port health­care providers,” said CEO Michel Vounatsos, who’s now pre­sid­ing over the hard­est-hit drug­mak­er in the in­dus­try. A strat­e­gy meet­ing held at Boston Mar­riott Long Wharf has led to the in­fec­tion of 100 Bio­gen staffers and their house­hold con­tacts in Mass­a­chu­setts, where a to­tal of 197 cas­es have been re­port­ed as of Mon­day af­ter­noon — and that’s not count­ing oth­er lo­cal trans­mis­sion. In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing med­ical equip­ment and sup­plies to Part­ners Health­Care and sup­port­ing two lo­cal hos­pi­tals in their front line work, Bio­gen’s funds will al­so go to­ward ex­pend­ing test­ing op­tions, eas­ing the strains on med­ical sys­tems, of­fer­ing train­ing and se­cur­ing ac­cess to ne­ces­si­ties like food in places such as North Car­oli­na, where at least five Bio­gen staffers have been test­ed pos­i­tive af­ter at­tend­ing the lead­er­ship gath­er­ing.

— Amid warn­ings that peo­ple who get mild symp­toms of Covid-19 and re­cov­er are dri­ving the spread of the dis­ease, sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta are turn­ing their fo­cus to this par­tic­u­lar pop­u­la­tion. They are launch­ing a new clin­i­cal tri­al to see if an old malar­ia drug — chloro­quine or hy­drox­y­chloro­quine — is a bet­ter post-ex­po­sure pro­phy­lax­is than the cur­rent stan­dard of care: ob­ser­va­tion. The tri­al will en­roll 1,500 in­di­vid­u­als who have had ex­po­sure to a Covid-19 case with­in 3 days, name­ly ei­ther health­care work­ers of house­hold con­tacts. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford is plan­ning a sim­i­lar study with 10,000 par­tic­i­pants in May. Clin­i­cians in Chi­na and Aus­tralia have re­port­ed en­cour­ag­ing re­sults treat­ing Covid-19 pa­tients with chloro­quine.

— Chi­nese sci­en­tists may now be­gin test­ing a sub­unit vac­cine de­vel­oped by the Acad­e­my of Mil­i­tary Med­ical Sci­ences in col­lab­o­ra­tion with CanSi­no Bi­o­log­ics. The Hong Kong-list­ed com­pa­ny said its can­di­date us­es a repli­ca­tion-de­fec­tive ade­n­ovirus type 5 as a vec­tor to ex­press the spike pro­tein on SARS-CoV-2. It’s al­so be­gun pre-screen­ing of healthy vol­un­teers in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the tri­al, which was green­light­ed Mon­day night. CanSi­no has pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Wei Chen, the se­nior bio­engi­neer cred­it­ed with lead­ing the re­search work, on Chi­na’s first Ebo­la vac­cine.

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

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Covid-19 roundup: Till­man Gern­gross inks deal to bring an­ti­body can­di­date to In­dia; At FDA's re­quest, mR­NA vac­cine mak­ers will ex­pand tri­als for chil­dren ages 5-11

A week after it was reported that India’s Covid-19 death toll could be in the millions, antibody legend Tillman Gerngross has inked a deal to develop Adagio’s lead candidate for the treatment and prevention of the virus in southern Asia.

Adagio is joining hands with Biocon Biologics to manufacture and commercialize a treatment based on ADG20 in India and “select emerging markets,” the companies announced on Monday. Under the agreement, Adagio will provide Biocon with materials and know-how to make the therapy, including data from ongoing Phase II/III trials and (if all goes well) access to its potential EUA package.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

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If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Frank Pallone (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

House com­mit­tee seeks more from FDA on in­spec­tion back­log, when to restart work on for­eign sites

House Energy & Commerce committee leaders are raising fresh questions about the FDA’s ability to conduct foreign manufacturing site inspections and bring down its growing backlog.

“While we understand that the emergence of COVID-19 required the agency to suspend in-person inspection activities temporarily, we remain concerned that more than one year into the pandemic, the strategy for resuming all inspections and addressing the backlog of delayed inspections remains unclear,” E&C chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and a group of five other bipartisan leaders of the committee wrote to FDA acting commissioner Janet Woodcock.