Eli Lil­ly teams with an­ti­body up­start Ab­Cellera in coro­n­avirus hunt

As the Covid-19 out­break reach­es of­fi­cial pan­dem­ic lev­els and be­gins to dis­rupt US life in un­prece­dent­ed ways, Eli Lil­ly is join­ing the hunt for a drug that can treat the in­fec­tion.

The lega­cy phar­ma — not typ­i­cal­ly known for a rapid R&D en­gine — is team­ing with a small but well-con­nect­ed an­ti­body start­up out of British Co­lum­bia called Ab­Cellera. Ab­Cellera said they had al­ready iso­lat­ed a lit­tle over 500 po­ten­tial­ly ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­bod­ies from the blood of one of the US pa­tients who re­cov­ered from the virus and will work with Eli Lil­ly on test­ing those and turn­ing the best ones in­to a drug. The NIH and the Vac­cine Re­search Cen­ters will al­low pro­vide sup­port.

Carl Hansen

“We are pulling out all the stops,” Ab­Cellera CEO Carl Hansen told End­points News. “We formed a plan at Eli Lil­ly and the ob­jec­tive is to have the first in-hu­man test­ing by late Ju­ly. If we are suc­cess­ful that would be a world record.”

Ab­Cellera and Lil­ly join a long list of drug­mak­ers rapid­ly search­ing for a treat­ment. Oth­er com­pa­nies, such as Re­gen­eron, are al­so hop­ing to have first in-hu­man test­ing by the sum­mer, but it’s not clear how rapid­ly a treat­ment could be de­ployed even af­ter go­ing through Phase I. Gilead’s ex­per­i­men­tal an­tivi­ral remde­sivir, orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped for Ebo­la, is al­ready in test­ing.

Ab­Cellera is on­ly 7 years old, but they’ve al­ready scored dis­cov­ery part­ner­ships with No­var­tis, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Sanofi, Pfiz­er and Gilead, along with a list of small­er biotechs, in­clud­ing De­nali, Har­bour Bio­med, and Au­to­lus. In 2018, they were one of four groups named to pan­dem­ic re­sponse project at the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Agency (DARPA). The goal was to build a plat­form that could cre­ate field-ready an­tivi­ral with­in 60 days of iso­lat­ing a virus.

Ab­Cellera’s role was an­ti­body screen­ing and re­fin­ing. The com­pa­ny is built on minia­ture as­says Hansen says al­lows them to rapid­ly screen the blood of in­fect­ed an­i­mals or hu­mans for an­ti­bod­ies against the virus, and then se­lect and en­gi­neer the best one.

Hansen said Ab­Cellera moved quick­ly af­ter the coro­n­avirus out­break be­gan. In Jan­u­ary, they be­gan prepar­ing the prop­er reagents. The next month, they ac­quired a blood sam­ple from one of the first pa­tients to re­cov­er from the coro­n­avirus. They then screened the blood for an­ti­bod­ies, turn­ing up thou­sands of re­sults, and whit­tled those down to 500.

”That ca­pa­bil­i­ty has been build­ing for three years,” Hansen said, re­fer­ring to the DARPA pro­gram. “We’ve pres­sure test­ed it three times.”

Ab­Cellera and Lil­ly will share de­vel­op­ment costs un­til a prod­uct is found, af­ter which Lil­ly will ful­ly cov­er de­vel­op­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

A P val­ue of 0.38? NE­JM re­sults raise new ques­tions for Eli Lil­ly's vaunt­ed Covid an­ti­body

Generally, a P value of 0.38 means your drug failed and by a fair margin. Depending on the company, the compound and the trial, it might mean the end of the program. It could trigger layoffs.

For Eli Lilly, though, it was part of the key endpoint on a trial that landed them a $1.2 billion deal with the US government to supply up to nearly 1 million Covid-19 antibodies.

So what does one make of that? Was the endpoint not so important, as Lilly maintains? Or did the US government promise a princely sum for a pedestrian drug?

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Re­gen­eron posts sec­ond look on Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail, boost­ing its case for EUA — but what about symp­tom al­le­vi­a­tion?

Regeneron has revealed a second cut of data on its Covid-19 antibody cocktail in the outpatient setting — data that it has sent straight to the FDA to boost its emergency use authorization request.

The new results reinforce what’s reported from the same trial last month, Regeneron said, incorporating a total of 799 non-hospitalized patients with mild-to-moderate disease. REGN-COV2 reduced viral load and patient medical visits (anything ranging from hospitalizations, emergency room, urgent care visits to physician office and telemedicine visits), meeting all the key endpoints.

Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

CMO Merdad Parsey (Gilead)

Gilead hits the brakes on a tri­fec­ta of mid- and late-stage stud­ies for their trou­bled fil­go­tinib pro­gram. It's up to the FDA now

Gilead $GILD execs haven’t decided exactly what to do with filgotinib in the wake of the slapdown at the FDA on their rheumatoid arthritis application, but they’re taking a time out for a slate of studies until they can gain some clarity from the agency. And without encouraging guidance, this drug could clearly be axed from the pipeline.

In their Q3 report out Wednesday afternoon, the company says researchers have “paused” a Phase III study for psoriatic arthritis along with a pair of Phase II trials for ankylosing spondylitis and uveitis. Late-stage studies for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are continuing, but you can see for yourself how big a hole this leaves in the inflammatory disease pipeline, with obvious implications if the company abandons filgo altogether.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Noubar Afeyan, Flagship founder and CEO (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Flag­ship launch­es Sen­da Bio­sciences with $88M in back­ing, look­ing to pi­o­neer the field of 'In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy'

Flagship Pioneering has a fresh company out this week, one that aims to lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline.

Senda Biosciences launched Wednesday with $88 million in Flagship cash. The goal? Gain insights into the molecular connections between people and coevolved nonhuman species like plants and bacteria, paving the way for “Intersystems Biology.”

Guillaume Pfefer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech veteran who comes from GSK after leading the development of the company’s shingles vaccine.

Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief

GSK's Hal Bar­ron ax­es a once-prized drug from J&J, con­tin­u­ing shift away from res­pi­ra­to­ry

Hal Barron’s revamp of the GlaxoSmithKline pipeline continued yesterday, as the British pharma announced they axed an asthma drug they once promised over $200 million to acquire.

Then led by CEO Andrew Witty and R&D chief Patrick Vallance, GSK picked up the drug, known elegantly as GSK3772847, from J&J in 2016, hoping to expand on the beachhead in asthma they had established the year prior with Breo Ellipta. They promised up to $227 million in upfront payments and milestones.

Ar­cus and As­traZeneca part­ner on a high stakes an­ti-TIG­IT/PD-L1 PhI­II can­cer study, look­ing to im­prove on a stan­dard of care

For AstraZeneca, the PACIFIC trial in Stage III non-small cell lung cancer remains one of the big triumphs for AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group. It not only made their PD-L1 Imfinzi a franchise player with a solid advance in a large niche of the lung cancer market, the study — which continues to offer data on the long-range efficacy of their drug — also helped salve the vicious sting of the failure of the CTLA-4 combo in the MYSTIC study.