Ex-Bio­gen chief George Scan­gos to spear­head a Gates-backed start­up with big plans to fight in­fec­tious dis­eases

George Scan­gos

Ex-Bio­gen CEO George Scan­gos won’t be spend­ing much time be­tween jobs. Arch Ven­tures co-founder Robert Nelsen has re­cruit­ed Scan­gos to run an am­bi­tious new start­up of his fo­cused on amp­ing up an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on some per­ni­cious vi­ral and bac­te­r­i­al dis­eases like tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

Nelsen, who nev­er does any­thing small, has al­ready com­mit­ted $150 mil­lion to the ven­ture — dubbed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy. He’s be­ing joined by the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion along­side “sov­er­eign wealth funds, pub­lic mu­tu­al funds and promi­nent in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­ly of­fices” that plan to put up hun­dreds of mil­lions more to back their work.

That mon­ey will be used to in-li­cense new pro­grams with an eye to quick­ly build­ing a pipeline of new ther­a­pies. For­mer Ver­tex Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals pres­i­dent and Bio­gen Vice Pres­i­dent of Re­search and Sci­en­tif­ic Board mem­ber Vic­ki Sato will take on the chair­man’s role of the San Fran­cis­co-based com­pa­ny.

They’re get­ting start­ed with vi­ral vec­tors ob­tained in a buy­out of Tomega­Va, tech­nolo­gies orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped by a team at Ore­gon Health & Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty which was led by Louis Pick­er and Klaus Frueh.

“The scale and scope we en­vi­sion for Vir will al­low us to fund tar­get­ed aca­d­e­m­ic re­search, ramp our own re­search and de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, and write in­di­vid­ual checks of up to $100 mil­lion to in-li­cense in­no­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms and nov­el clin­i­cal as­sets from biotech and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies,” said Nelsen.

That’s all in line with Nelsen’s Big Pic­ture think­ing at Arch, which has al­so backed Uni­ty, which is look­ing to be­come a pi­o­neer in an­ti-ag­ing R&D, and oth­er high fly­ing biotechs like Juno, one of the orig­i­nal CAR-T com­pa­nies now strug­gling with a dan­ger­ous lead pro­gram.

Scan­gos had this to say:

“The op­por­tu­ni­ty to lead Vir is one I could not pass up. There is a tremen­dous glob­al need for ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies and pre­ven­tions for in­fec­tious dis­eases of con­sid­er­able pub­lic health im­por­tance. Suc­cess would mean al­le­vi­a­tion of a lot of hu­man suf­fer­ing as well as mean­ing­ful fi­nan­cial re­turns for Vir in­vestors. The sci­ence has ma­tured to a point where ex­cit­ing new ap­proach­es are at hand, and there is a need for a com­pa­ny to pur­sue those ap­proach­es with ex­cel­lence, crit­i­cal mass and scale. Vir is that com­pa­ny, and I am very ex­cit­ed to take on a lead­er­ship role.”

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.

Arde­lyx bags its first FDA OK for IBS, set­ting up a show­down with Al­ler­gan, Iron­wood

In the first of what it hopes will be a couple of major regulatory milestones for its new drug, Ardelyx has bagged an FDA approval to market Ibsrela (tenapanor) for irritable bowel syndrome.

The drug’s first application will be for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), inhibiting sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE3 in the GI tract in such a way as to increase bowel movements and decrease abdominal pain. This comes on the heels of two successful Phase III trials.