De­railed by the pan­dem­ic, FDA of­fers CRISPR, Ver­tex drug pro­gram VIP sta­tus for its come­back play

CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics may have run in­to a hur­dle for its clin­i­cal pro­gram to ad­vance CTX001 in se­vere he­mo­glo­binopathies, but the FDA is on record that it will do every­thing it can to get the drug back on track and head­ed to the fin­ish line.

CRISPR and its part­ners at Ver­tex an­nounced Mon­day morn­ing that the FDA had award­ed them the Re­gen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine Ad­vanced Ther­a­py — RMAT — des­ig­na­tion for their pro­gram to treat se­vere sick­le cell dis­ease and trans­fu­sion-de­pen­dent be­ta tha­lassemia. And that should give them an open door as they hus­tle through the clin­i­cal pro­gram.

The move comes a lit­tle more than 5 months af­ter re­searchers of­fered a snap­shot look at pos­i­tive re­sults for the first pa­tient in each of those 2 pro­grams. And it fol­lows close on the heels of an SEC fil­ing not­ing that re­searchers here had to stop en­rolling new pa­tients due to the Covid-19 out­break.

In the pro­gram, re­searchers ex­tract hematopoi­et­ic stem and prog­en­i­tor cells from pa­tients and then re-en­gi­neer them us­ing CRISPR/Cas9 tech. Those cells are then in­fused back in­to pa­tients.

At the time, Ver­tex ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Jeff Lei­den her­ald­ed the snap­shot re­sults as ev­i­dence of its “po­ten­tial to be a cu­ra­tive CRISPR/Cas9-based gene-edit­ing ther­a­py.”

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Biohaven CEO Vlad Coric (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

Pssst: That big Bio­haven Alzheimer's study? It was a bust. Even the sub­group analy­sis ex­ecs tout­ed was a flop

You know it’s bad when a biopharma player plucks out a subgroup analysis for a positive take — even though it was way off the statistical mark for success, like everything else.

So it was for Biohaven $BHVN on MLK Monday, as the biotech reported on the holiday that their Phase II/III Alzheimer’s study for troriluzole flunked both co-primary endpoints as well as a key biomarker analysis.

The drug — a revised version of the ALS drug riluzole designed to regulate glutamate — did not “statistically differentiate” from placebo on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale 11 (ADAS-cog) and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB).  The “hippocampal volume” assessment by MRI also failed to distinguish itself from placebo for all patients fitting the mild-to-moderate disease profile they had established for the study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (GSK via YouTube)

Glax­o­SmithK­line's $4B bis­pe­cif­ic can­cer drug al­liance with Mer­ck KGaA hit by big set­back with a PhI­II fail­ure on NSCLC

Close to 2 years ago, GSK’s R&D team eagerly agreed to pay up to $4 billion-plus to ally itself with Merck KGaA on a mid-stage bispecific called bintrafusp alfa, which intrigued them with the combination of a TGF-β trap with the anti-PD-L1 mechanism in one fusion protein.

But today the German pharma company says that their lead study on lung cancer was a bust, as independent monitors said there was no reason to believe that the experimental drug — targeting PD-L1/TGF-Beta — could beat Keytruda.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.

Bris­tol My­ers Squibb gets re­view date for Op­di­vo com­bo in gas­tric can­cer, look­ing to over­turn Keytru­da's 3-year lead

The past two months have been tough for Bristol Myers Squibb and its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo after setbacks in lung and brain cancers. But in the battle against Merck’s Keytruda, any success matters — and now Bristol could be looking at a quick approval for Opdivo in an unmatched indication.

The FDA will launch a speedy review of a combination of Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and chemotherapy to treat first-line patients with advanced or metastatic gastric cancer, gastroesophageal junction cancer or esophageal adenocarcinoma, the drugmaker said Wednesday. The agency set an action date of May 25 for the application.

Covid-19 claims an­oth­er PDU­FA vic­tim as Glax­o­SmithK­line push­es back planned PD-1 roll­out

Bristol Myers Squibb isn’t the only pharma giant that’s been standing in the FDA’s waiting line for site inspections.

GlaxoSmithKline is telling us today that their H2 2020 PDUFA deadline for the PD-1 drug dostarlimab — picked up in its Tesaro buyout — was pushed back due to a delay in the manufacturing site inspection needed for a regulatory decision. And that is forcing the company to revise its timeline.

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Cardiovascular chief Joerg Koglin (Merck)

Mer­ck makes good on big CV gam­ble with veri­ciguat nod — but com­pe­ti­tion will be fierce

The results for Merck’s leading heart drug fell short of what some cardiologists had hoped for, but they proved more than enough to convince the FDA, which handed down an approval Wednesday.

The agency OK’d vericiguat, now marketed as Verquvo, for patients with heart failure, offering one of the first new pharmaceutical tools to tackle a hard-to-treat group of patients at high risk for what remains the leading cause of death in the US and Europe. It’s also a notable win for Merck, who rolled the dice on the molecule in 2016, paying Bayer $1 billion for US rights to the then-experimental drug and ex-US rights for the approved CV drug Adempas.

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Andrew Allen, Gritstone CEO (Gritstone via website)

Grit­stone con­tin­ues Covid-19 push with deal to de­vel­op 'self-am­pli­fy­ing RNA' vac­cines, as shares con­tin­ue bal­loon­ing

Gritstone Oncology has had a big week, and it’s only Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the biotech revealed plans to start clinical testing of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine — in tandem with NIAID — that can also target other coronaviruses, with the goal of preventing future pandemics should SARS-CoV-2 prove difficult to cure with current vaccines. Then, on Wednesday morning, Gritstone licensed lipid nanoparticle technology from Genevant Sciences to develop what it’s calling “self-amplifying RNA vaccines” against Covid-19.

Artist rendering of the Assembly Square site in Somerville, MA (BioMed Realty)

Bio­Med Re­al­ty snaps up in­no­va­tion cam­pus site with­in earshot of pricey and bustling Boston biotech hub

On the short list of the premier biotech hubs in the world, the Boston area has transformed into a home for innovation — and ridiculously high rent. Now, a real estate firm is seeking tenants for a major site in neighboring Somerville with more than enough elbow room.

Snapped up by BioMed Realty, the land — which consists of an existing 162,000 square-foot office building and a 7.5 acre site — will serve as an “innovation space” for a variety of research, technology and life science tenants, the real estate company said in a press release. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.