Elan­co grabs $140M in deal with French phar­ma com­pa­ny; An­oth­er com­pa­ny an­nounces a coro­n­avirus vac­cine hunt

Eli Lil­ly spin­off Elan­co An­i­mal Health — which last Au­gust dropped $7.6 bil­lion to snag Bay­er‘s an­i­mal health busi­ness — has inked a $140 mil­lion all-cash agree­ment with French phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny Ve­to­quinol. Un­der the terms of agree­ment, Elan­co will di­vest the Eu­ro­pean Eco­nom­ic Area and UK rights to Bay­er’s Drontal and Pro­fend­er (both de­worm­ers for dogs and cats) prod­uct fam­i­lies to Ve­to­quinol.

Coda­genix re­cent­ly land­ed a $20 mil­lion round to help de­vel­op a soft­ware plat­form that could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly be used to de­vel­op a vac­cine for any virus, and to­day it an­nounced it is turn­ing that plat­form to try and build a vac­cine for the nov­el coro­n­avirus, now known as Covid-19. The an­nounce­ment puts Coda­genix on a grow­ing list of com­pa­nies search­ing for a vac­cine for the out­break, and they are far from the most ex­pe­ri­enced or well-backed play­er. They have, how­ev­er, se­cured a part­ner­ship with the Serum In­sti­tute of In­dia, which they say can mass-pro­duce the vac­cine once cre­at­ed. Find­ing fa­cil­i­ties to scale up a po­ten­tial vac­cine has been a con­cern of world health of­fi­cials, but it is al­so a lat­er is­sue: A vac­cine is un­like­ly to be cleared for at least a year, by which that time the virus may have pe­tered out.

→ The In­dus­tri­al Strat­e­gy Chal­lenge Fund (IS­CF), part of the UK gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to strength­en UK sci­ence and busi­ness, is bankrolling a study with 5 mil­lion vol­un­teers to sup­port re­search in­to the pre­ven­tion, or ear­ly in­ter­ven­tion, of chron­ic dis­eases in in­di­vid­u­als be­fore any symp­toms present. IS­CF is part­ing with £79 mil­lion to sup­port the re­search.

→ As Abeona Ther­a­peu­tics re­sumes late-stage work on its but­ter­fly dis­ease gene ther­a­py, the biotech is tout­ing pos­i­tive ear­ly da­ta for a sec­ond pro­gram in mu­copolysac­cha­ri­do­sis type II­IA and MPS II­IB. Both ABO-102 and ABO-101 re­duced the lev­els of bio­mark­ers such as cere­brospinal flu­id and uri­nary he­paran sul­fate, the com­pa­ny not­ed.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Covid-19 roundup: EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund; Bei­jing ar­rests ex-Bio­gen staffer who flew while in­fect­ed

For months now, the US government has doled out unprecedented grants to vaccine developers in hopes of speeding the completion of a Covid-19 candidate, even if that meant putting hundreds of millions or billions behind efforts that ultimately failed. Now, the European Union may do the same.

The EU is planning to use a $2.7 billion rainy day fund to make advance purchases of vaccine candidates, Reuters reports. The news comes a day after the Trump Administration reportedly settled on the five finalists for its Operation Warp Speed, all of whom will get significant funding and other US assistance to finish testing and scale up their vaccine candidates.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.