Eli Lil­ly is mak­ing a $1.8B leap in­to the mR­NA field, tar­get­ing next-gen can­cer vac­cines

Eli Lil­ly is div­ing in­to the mes­sen­ger RNA are­na, sign­ing off on a heav­i­ly back-end­ed $1.8 bil­lion deal with Ger­many’s Cure­Vac to de­vel­op up to 5 new-wave can­cer vac­cines.

Cure­Vac is get­ting $100 mil­lion in cash to kick off the col­lab­o­ra­tion, split be­tween an up­front pay­ment and eq­ui­ty stake. Then there’s a pack­age of $1.7 bil­lion in mile­stones on the ta­ble.

In turn Cure­Vac will be tasked with de­sign­ing a slate of new can­cer vac­cines that us­es mR­NA tech to in­struct the hu­man im­mune sys­tem to tar­get a spe­cif­ic set of neoanti­gens. While past can­cer vac­cines have gen­er­al­ly proven to be in­ef­fec­tive though safe, a num­ber of de­vel­op­ers have been hunt­ing down spe­cif­ic pa­tient anti­gens that can be lever­aged for much more pre­cise tar­get­ing — with a greater like­li­hood of suc­cess.

In­g­mar Ho­err

Cure­Vac, though, has met with a key fail­ure on the can­cer vac­cine ear­li­er in the year. Its lead­ing mR­NA pro­gram CV9104, a prostate can­cer vac­cine, failed a crit­i­cal Phase IIb study in Jan­u­ary. That drug used a group of “shared” anti­gens com­mon to prostate can­cer, while ri­val Mod­er­na has been go­ing af­ter a more per­son­al­ized ap­proach in its pro­gram, part­nered with Mer­ck.

Cure­Vac — backed by Ger­man bil­lion­aire Di­et­mar Hopp along with ad­di­tion­al fund­ing from the Gates Foun­da­tion — is one of the lead­ers in the mR­NA field, with Mod­er­na and oth­ers en­gaged in a sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly de­mand­ing ap­proach to in­struct­ing tar­get­ed cells to cre­ate a treat­ment. It’s still ear­ly days, though we are be­gin­ning to see more ear­ly hu­man da­ta that un­der­scores the po­ten­tial of the field.

For Lil­ly, this is an­oth­er ex­am­ple of a more ex­pan­sive ap­proach to part­ner­ing and ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion, with new CEO Dave Ricks more like­ly to reach out to col­lab­o­ra­tors than his pre­de­ces­sor John Lech­leit­er.

Not­ed Cure­Vac CEO In­g­mar Ho­err:

This new col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lil­ly is a tes­ti­mo­ny to the progress and so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Cure­Vac’s RN­Ac­tive tech­nol­o­gy and the po­ten­tial of mR­NA-based ther­a­peu­tics. We now have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to com­bine forces to fur­ther ex­pand the ex­cit­ing space of im­muno-on­col­o­gy with the next gen­er­a­tion of can­cer ther­a­pies.

The Eli Lil­ly and Co cor­po­rate head­quar­ters is pic­tured April 26, 2017, in In­di­anapo­lis. AP Pho­to/Dar­ron Cum­mings

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

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

UP­DAT­ED: 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.

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.

Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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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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.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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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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Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.