Carol Robinson, Professor Dame Carol Robinson Research Group

Drug dis­cov­ery in HD: Ox­ford spin­of­f's mass spec­trom­e­try ap­proach scores fresh fund­ing

The tech­nol­o­gy used to de­tect ex­plo­sives at air­ports — mass spec­trom­e­try — is be­ing pi­lot­ed as an en­gine for drug dis­cov­ery.

Mass spec­trom­e­try is a tool de­signed to mea­sure with pro­found ac­cu­ra­cy the mass of a sin­gle mol­e­cule. Typ­i­cal­ly, mass spec­trom­e­ters can be used to iden­ti­fy un­known com­pounds, to quan­ti­fy known com­pounds, and to de­ter­mine the struc­ture and chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of mol­e­cules.

Us­ing this in­for­ma­tion to de­vel­op drugs, ver­sus us­ing tra­di­tion­al cell-based as­says is an ap­proach pi­o­neered by Car­ol Robin­son, the first fe­male pro­fes­sor of chem­istry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford. Along­side her for­mer stu­dents, Robin­son found­ed OMass Ther­a­peu­tics to move it for­ward in the field of mem­brane tar­gets, in­clud­ing GPCRs.

On Mon­day, the Ox­ford spin­off un­veiled £27.5 mil­lion in ad­di­tion­al Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing from Syn­cona, Ox­ford Sci­ences In­no­va­tion (OSI), and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford, bring­ing its to­tal haul to £41.5 mil­lion.

“It’s drug dis­cov­ery in high de­f­i­n­i­tion…it’s all about re­veal­ing the pic­ture with high­er res­o­lu­tion. And it’s about high con­tent da­ta. The rea­son mass spec­trom­e­try is in­ter­est­ing in drug dis­cov­ery is that the con­tent that you get from the da­ta is much high­er res­o­lu­tion than through a cell-based as­say,” OMass chief Ros Dee­gan told End­points News.

“So in a cell-based as­say, you’re ef­fec­tive­ly an­swer­ing on­ly the ques­tion that you asked, where­as, in na­tive mass spec­trom­e­try, it’s a bio­phys­i­cal ap­proach.”

The ma­jor­i­ty of ex­ist­ing ther­a­peu­tics tar­get mem­brane pro­tein — ac­ces­si­ble on the sur­face of cells — to mod­i­fy cel­lu­lar sig­nal­ing. In con­trast to tra­di­tion­al cell-based as­says, the mass spec­trom­e­try ap­proach of­fers ‘high de­f­i­n­i­tion’ in­sight in­to un­der­stand­ing mem­brane pro­tein bi­ol­o­gy, Dee­gan not­ed.

The plat­form pro­vides ac­cess to dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal start­ing points be­cause bio­phys­i­cal ap­proach­es tend to point to­ward dif­fer­ent chem­istry — as they are not bi­ased to spe­cif­ic types of chem­istry through the use of cell-based as­says, she said. “Cell-based as­says tend to put you in lipophilic, quite of­ten large lipophilic com­pounds.”

If the ap­proach is shown to work, it could serve to short­en drug dis­cov­ery time­frames.

“Ul­ti­mate­ly the com­pa­ny aims to use high de­f­i­n­i­tion tech­nolo­gies to ef­fi­cient­ly ac­cess can­di­dates with a greater PoS (prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess) in high-val­ue ar­eas, there­fore sig­nif­i­cant­ly short­en­ing the drug dis­cov­ery time­line for small mol­e­cules,” said Lach­lan MacK­in­non, prin­ci­pal at OSI in an email to End­points.

OMass in­tends to not just iden­ti­fy mol­e­cules of in­ter­est but to take them through to the mar­ket them­selves. It has three pro­grams at the mo­ment — al­though they are far from be­ing ready for the clin­ic.

The cap­i­tal in­jec­tion will give OMass — which is fo­cus­ing on im­munol­o­gy and ge­net­i­cal­ly de­fined dis­eases out­side of im­munol­o­gy — just over two years of run­way and will be used to shep­herd its lead pro­gram in­to pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Steve Hurly, Lava CEO

La­va breaks pro­longed si­lence with an $83M Se­ries C and two I/O pro­grams set for the clin­ic

Lava debuted in May of 2018 with $18.9 million, a platform built around something called gamma delta cells and a plan, apparently, of saying nothing else for the next two years. They never announced a program and they did not issue another press release for the next 20 months.

In May, though, the Dutch-American biotech announced a partnership on cancer bispecifics with J&J. And today, CEO Steve Hurly is ready to talk about what they’ve been working on for the last two years in Utrecht and Philadelphia – as well as the $83 million they raised from Novo, Sanofi and others to bring that work into the clinic next year.

Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (Autolus)

#ES­MO20: Au­to­lus pro­vides glimpse of next-gen­er­a­tion CAR-T pro­gram, show­ing ear­ly pos­i­tive safe­ty da­ta

CAR-T therapies were hailed as a breakthrough when Novartis received the first FDA approval for Kymriah back in 2017. Though highly effective at treating certain types of blood cancers, CAR-Ts are also associated with severe and potentially deadly side effects, including lethal instances of cytokine release syndrome.

With this in mind, Autolus Therapeutics is looking to take a crack at a safer CAR-T and presented Phase II cohort data for its AUTO3 program at virtual ESMO 2020. The data showed that, among the 35 patients in the cohort being treated for r/r diffuse large B cell lymphoma, there were no instances of Grade 3 or higher CRS. Eight individuals saw Grade 1 inflammation while another four patients reached Grade 2.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er ex­ecs con­fi­dent­ly tap their top 10 block­busters-to-be. But what are the chances of sur­viv­ing PhI­II, let alone hit­ting these big peak sales es­ti­mates?

Pfizer’s top executive team doesn’t lack for confidence.

Where many Big Pharmas would be reluctant to put a peak sales figure on their late-stage drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has shrugged off the usual diffidence to outline where the pharma giant expects to get $15 billion-plus.

The list, outlined this week during their investor presentations, is topped by 3 drugs in the $3 billion-plus peak sales category. They are:

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Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A mi­cro-cap with a po­ten­tial­ly promis­ing coro­n­avirus drug en­lists mask-skep­tic con­gress­man for DSMB

A small biotech that has talked up a potentially promising but unproven treatment for Covid-19 enlisted an unusual member for its study’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board: a sitting Republican congressman with close ties to the CEO and a history of mask skepticism.

NeuroRx, an Israeli biotech testing a lung inflammation drug in Covid-19 patients, tapped Maryland Rep. Andy Harris for the DSMB, Politico reported. Harris is an anesthesiologist but not a biostatistician, and he has questioned the CDC about a “cult of masks” in the US. Harris has known NeuroRx CEO Jonathan Javitt since the two worked at Johns Hopkins together over 20 years ago.

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