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.”

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Frank Zhang (AP Images)

Rocked by cus­toms in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Leg­end's CFO takes over as CEO Frank Zhang placed un­der house ar­rest

When Frank Zhang stepped down from GenScript — the contract research group he’s run for 18 years — to take up the CEO post at its CAR-T focused spinout Legend Biotech, he assured analysts that he was in for the long haul.

Just 49 days later, though, he’s been forced to hand back the title.

In a dramatic turn of events, Legend disclosed that Zhang is under house arrest in China as part of a customs investigation involving GenScript. While he remains the chairman, CFO Ying Huang has been tapped to double as interim CEO.

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UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

Donald Trump, AP

Covid-19 roundup: Trump sug­gests Pfiz­er vac­cine could be first ap­proved; VBI Vac­cines inks de­vel­op­ment deal with Cana­da

President Donald Trump commented Monday morning that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate could be the first to win approval by regulators.

During an interview on a Fox News’ morning show, the president said Pfizer was doing “very well” when asked which candidate could be approved, according to a Reuters report. He added that J&J could follow up afterward, saying “they’ll probably be a little later.”