De­ci­phera banks a $52M C round for can­cer R&D; Io­n­is adds $50M mile­stone from Bio­gen

→  Waltham, MA-based De­ci­phera Ther­a­peu­tics an­nounced that it has banked a $52 mil­lion C round to keep fu­el­ing its grow­ing pipeline ef­forts, in­clud­ing its lead drug, still in the ear­ly stages of de­vel­op­ment, a pan-KIT and PDGFR in­hibitor dubbed DCC-2618. Viking Glob­al In­vestors, Red­mile Group and Sphera Glob­al Health­care Fund led the round, joined by De­ci­phera’s ex­ist­ing in­vestors in­clud­ing New Leaf Ven­ture Part­ners. Said De­ci­phera CEO Michael Tay­lor: “The pro­ceeds of this fi­nanc­ing will be used to ad­vance de­vel­op­ment of DCC-2618 and DCC-3014 in­to lat­er-stage clin­i­cal tri­als with the goal of de­liv­er­ing new ther­a­pies that ad­dress key re­sis­tance mech­a­nisms to im­prove can­cer treat­ment out­comes.”

→  Io­n­is earned a $50 mil­lion mile­stone pay­ment from Bio­gen to­day as Spin­raza be­came the first ap­proved treat­ment for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy in the Eu­ro­pean Union. So far the com­pa­ny has earned $375 mil­lion from Bio­gen re­lat­ed to Spin­raza and is still slat­ed to re­ceive tiered roy­al­ties on glob­al sales of the drug. The com­pa­ny has pre­vi­ous­ly faced a back­lash over the drug’s price tag in the Unit­ed States.

→ Pen­ny biotech stock Thresh­old Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $THLD has sold off its AKR1C3-tar­get­ing drug TH-3424 to Tai­wan’s OBI Phar­ma for a sin­gle, undis­closed pay­ment. Thresh­old shares were crushed two years ago by a pair of key tri­al fail­ures. Its on­ly oth­er drug in the pipeline is evo­fos­famide, which is in a slate of stud­ies af­ter fail­ing in Phase III at Mer­ck KGaA.

→ Cam­bridge, MA-based Voy­ager an­nounced to­day that it has se­lect­ed VY-HTT01 as a clin­i­cal can­di­date for the treat­ment of Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease. They hope that a sin­gle de­liv­ery of the drug to a pa­tient’s brain will se­lec­tive­ly knock down the pro­duc­tion of HTT mR­NA. The com­pa­ny is work­ing with Sanofi Genezyme and CH­DI to de­vel­op the drug.

→   The Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion grant­ed Bio­Marin mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion for Brineu­ra (cer­liponase al­fa), the first treat­ment ap­proved in the Eu­ro­pean Union for the treat­ment of neu­ronal ceroid lipo­fus­ci­nosis type 2 (CLN2). The FDA grant­ed ap­proval for the drug, one of the most ex­pen­sive on the mar­ket, at the end of April.

→   The Swiss bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny Inthera fin­ished a Se­ries A with $10.5 mil­lion. Mer­ck Ven­tures led the round with equal con­tri­bu­tion from Agla­ia Bio­Med­ical Ven­tures and No­vo Seeds as well as par­tic­i­pa­tion of a pri­vate in­vestor. “We are now in a po­si­tion to com­plete the pre-clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of our lead pro­gram against HPV-as­so­ci­at­ed can­cers and ex­pand our op­er­a­tions and pipeline”, said Ul­rich Kessler, CEO and co-founder of Inthera.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Look­ing for 'ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion,' Boehringer In­gel­heim re­serves $500M+ for new Shang­hai hub

Now that Boehringer Ingelheim’s bet on contract manufacturing in China has paid off, the German drugmaker is anteing up more to get into the research game.

Boehringer has set aside $507.9 million (€451 million) for a new External Innovation Hub to be built in Shanghai over five years. The site will become one of its “strategic pillars” as the team strives to get 71 approvals — either for new products or indications — by 2030, said Felix Gutsche, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim China.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)

Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Bio­gen bags an AAV gene ther­a­py pro­gram from Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear; Biotechs raised $1B-plus in lat­est round of fol­low-ons

→ Biogen has picked up a new, preclinical gene therapy program from Massachusetts Eye and Ear for inherited retinal degeneration due to mutations in the PRPF31 gene, among the most common causes for autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa. They’re building on the work of Harvard’s Eric Pierce. “The treatment of IRDs with highly effective AAV-based gene therapies is core to Biogen’s ophthalmology strategy,” said Chris Henderson, the research head at Biogen. “This agreement underscores our commitment to that strategy and builds off of our acquisition of Nightstar Therapeutics in 2019 and our active clinical trials of gene therapies for different genetic forms of IRD.”

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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