Hunt­ing a cure, Ex-No­var­tis ex­ec Bas­tiano San­na takes the reins at Cam­bridge di­a­betes start­up Sem­ma

A start­up try­ing to de­vel­op a stem cell cure for type 1 di­a­betes has re­cruit­ed for­mer Ma­gen­ta ex­ec­u­tive Bas­tiano San­na — a guy best known for lead­ing the de­vel­op­ment of No­var­tis’ cell-based med­i­cines — to serve as the com­pa­ny’s new CEO.

Bas­tiano San­na

Cam­bridge-based Sem­ma Ther­a­peu­tics is bring­ing San­na in to re­place its in­ter­im CEO Eliz­a­beth Ston­er. San­na comes di­rect­ly from Ma­gen­ta (an­oth­er start­up de­vel­op­ing stem cell tech), where he was chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. Be­fore that, San­na was an ex­ec­u­tive at No­var­tis’ cell and gene ther­a­py di­vi­sion, over­see­ing the de­vel­op­ment of CAR-T drugs.

“Bas­tiano has the per­fect set of skills and ex­pe­ri­ences to lead Sem­ma through our next phase of growth as a com­pa­ny af­ter a very suc­cess­ful Se­ries B fi­nanc­ing,” said Sem­ma’s board chair­man Mark Fish­man in a state­ment. “Few lead­ers have such a strong cell ther­a­py back­ground com­bined with his lev­el of strate­gic and busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Doug Melton

Sem­ma’s tech is based on re­search by Har­vard’s Doug Melton, whose lab de­vel­oped a way to turn em­bry­on­ic stem cells in­to in­sulin-pro­duc­ing be­ta cells in a dish. Sem­ma is now de­vel­op­ing an im­plantable, cred­it card-sized de­vice con­tain­ing these be­ta cells that would do the work of a healthy pan­creas. The de­vice, made to pro­tect the cells from be­ing at­tacked by the body’s im­mune sys­tem, would func­tion as an al­ter­na­tive to in­sulin pumps and in­jec­tions.

Sem­ma isn’t the on­ly com­pa­ny de­vel­op­ing an ap­proach like this to di­a­betes. There’s a com­pa­ny in San Diego called Vi­a­Cyte with a sim­i­lar cred­it card-sized de­vice be­ing test­ed in pa­tients with type 1 di­a­betes (Phase I/II tri­als).

Still, Sem­ma has at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able fi­nan­cial back­ing for its ap­proach. Since be­ing found­ed in 2014, the com­pa­ny has raised a to­tal of $163 mil­lion, in­clud­ing a whop­ping $114 mil­lion Se­ries B round last year. Its in­vestors in­clude MPM Cap­i­tal, F-Prime Cap­i­tal Part­ners, ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners, and No­var­tis.

“Sem­ma is a leader in re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, and I couldn’t be more ex­cit­ed to lead this in­cred­i­ble team,” San­na said. “By com­bin­ing our deep un­der­stand­ing of stem cell bi­ol­o­gy with our cut­ting-edge de­vice tech­nol­o­gy, we have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to ex­pand the cu­ra­tive pow­er of cell ther­a­py to a range of clin­i­cal in­di­ca­tions where cell re­place­ment is nec­es­sary, and to im­prove the lives of mil­lions of pa­tients.”

Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore No­vem­ber — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly. And that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A mi­cro-cap with a po­ten­tial­ly promis­ing coro­n­avirus drug en­lists mask-skep­tic con­gress­man for DSMB

A small biotech that has talked up a potentially promising but unproven treatment for Covid-19 enlisted an unusual member for its study’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board: a sitting Republican congressman with close ties to the CEO and a history of mask skepticism.

NeuroRx, an Israeli biotech testing a lung inflammation drug in Covid-19 patients, tapped Maryland Rep. Andy Harris for the DSMB, Politico reported. Harris is an anesthesiologist but not a biostatistician, and he has questioned the CDC about a “cult of masks” in the US. Harris has known NeuroRx CEO Jonathan Javitt since the two worked at Johns Hopkins together over 20 years ago.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er ex­ecs con­fi­dent­ly tap their top 10 block­busters-to-be. But what are the chances of sur­viv­ing PhI­II, let alone hit­ting these big peak sales es­ti­mates?

Pfizer’s top executive team doesn’t lack for confidence.

Where many Big Pharmas would be reluctant to put a peak sales figure on their late-stage drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has shrugged off the usual diffidence to outline where the pharma giant expects to get $15 billion-plus.

The list, outlined this week during their investor presentations, is topped by 3 drugs in the $3 billion-plus peak sales category. They are:

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Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (Autolus)

#ES­MO20: Au­to­lus pro­vides glimpse of next-gen­er­a­tion CAR-T pro­gram, show­ing ear­ly pos­i­tive safe­ty da­ta

CAR-T therapies were hailed as a breakthrough when Novartis received the first FDA approval for Kymriah back in 2017. Though highly effective at treating certain types of blood cancers, CAR-Ts are also associated with severe and potentially deadly side effects, including lethal instances of cytokine release syndrome.

With this in mind, Autolus Therapeutics is looking to take a crack at a safer CAR-T and presented Phase II cohort data for its AUTO3 program at virtual ESMO 2020. The data showed that, among the 35 patients in the cohort being treated for r/r diffuse large B cell lymphoma, there were no instances of Grade 3 or higher CRS. Eight individuals saw Grade 1 inflammation while another four patients reached Grade 2.

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