Jason Kelly, Gingko Bioworks CEO (Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe)

Ex­clu­sive: Eye­ing big Covid-19 test­ing ex­pan­sion, Gink­go rolls out 50M rapid anti­gen di­ag­nos­tics

In what they hope will be a key part of an ex­ten­sive ef­fort to boost Covid-19 test­ing in the US, Gink­go Bioworks is ac­quir­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing 50 mil­lion rapid anti­gen tests that can po­ten­tial­ly be used for virus sur­veil­lance in schools and com­mu­ni­ties and for quick, on the ground di­ag­noses.

The tests, de­vel­oped by SD Biosen­sor, are in line with pro­pos­als from the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and Har­vard epi­demi­ol­o­gists, among oth­ers, to blan­ket the coun­try with fast, low-cost tests. Al­though not yet au­tho­rized in the US, they are a key part of test­ing ef­forts from the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, who an­nounced plans last month to dis­trib­ute 120 mil­lion of them in low and mid­dle in­come coun­tries. Roche has com­mer­cial­ized the di­ag­nos­tic in Eu­rope.

The tests can im­me­di­ate­ly be used for sur­veil­lance, where schools, of­fices or com­mu­ni­ties can mon­i­tor for out­breaks, as some places now do with waste­water test­ing and oth­er tech­nolo­gies. With an EUA, it could al­so be used to give in­di­vid­ual yes/no an­swers.

Gink­go’s new Covid-19 au­to­mat­ed, Il­lu­mi­na-equipped test­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Boston, set to open next month

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Gink­go CEO Ja­son Kel­ly said he en­vi­sioned de­ploy­ing the tests in com­mu­ni­ties in the same way some north­east col­leges used once or twice-a-week test­ing to safe­ly re­open in the fall. He not­ed the US doesn’t even have the ca­pac­i­ty now to test a frac­tion of schools.

“If you look, in the US, it’s 20 mil­lion stu­dents and staff as­so­ci­at­ed with col­leges. So if you were test­ing them twice a week, it’d be about 5 mil­lion a day, and our na­tion­al ca­pac­i­ty for test­ing right now is a mil­lion tests a day,” Kel­ly told End­points News. “So if you’re go­ing to ac­tu­al­ly do some­thing like what was done for a small num­ber of col­leges na­tion­wide, you’ve got­ta bring on­line stuff like this.”

A decade-old up­start out of MIT, Gink­go grew to uni­corn sta­tus at the tail end of 2019 off the ro­bot­ic fac­to­ries it built to scale syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy, sup­port­ing ap­pli­ca­tions on every­thing from fer­til­iz­er and per­fumes to nov­el an­tibi­otics and en­gi­neered mi­crobes.

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, though, the com­pa­ny has con­cen­trat­ed its ef­forts on di­ag­nos­tics. Most promi­nent­ly, in the spring, they un­veiled plans to use their ar­ray of Il­lu­mi­na se­quencers as a new kind of di­ag­nos­tic. With back­ing from the NIH’s RADx ini­tia­tive, Gink­go has built a new au­to­mat­ed fac­to­ry ded­i­cat­ed to that pur­pose in Boston. Once on­line next month, it should be able to process about 100,000 tests per day, or a full 10% in­crease in the na­tion’s cur­rent test­ing ca­pac­i­ty.

Ide­al­ly, Kel­ly said, they’d like to even­tu­al­ly use it for front-end pool test­ing, where a school or an of­fice mix­es sam­ples from, say, 10 dif­fer­ent peo­ple and tests them all to­geth­er in an ef­fort to get a broad sense of whether there’s an out­break.

“What you’re re­al­ly see­ing now is peo­ple put like 6 swabs in a tube and ship it to the lab,” Kel­ly said, laugh­ing. “But that’s a start. In a per­fect world they would al­so fig­ure out how to get the swabs out of there and just send a sam­ple to the lab that didn’t have swabs. But it’s start­ing to hap­pen.”

In the mean­time, they’re push­ing for­ward with the anti­gen plan. The tests they are now rolling out hold the same draw­backs that have swirled around anti­gen tests for months: the po­ten­tial for too many false pos­i­tives and too many false neg­a­tives. (Kel­ly, echo­ing ex­perts like Har­vard epi­demi­ol­o­gist Michael Mi­na, thinks the neg­a­tives aren’t much of a con­cern, as we’re al­ready miss­ing every­one we don’t test, though he thinks the pos­i­tives are worth watch­ing. “If you’re quar­an­ti­ning 5% of your work­force every day, it’s not go­ing to work,” he said.)

Gink­go al­so re­viewed the pa­per tests that E25Bio de­vel­ops and that Mi­na has been push­ing as a way to test near­ly every Amer­i­can every day. They de­cid­ed, though, that those weren’t yet read to scale — one of the key ad­van­tages of the SD Biosen­sor tech. Un­like some of the anti­gen tests from BD or Quidel, the SD Biosen­sor tests re­quire a much sim­pler de­vice to read. That could al­low for much broad­er man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion, sim­i­lar to the Ab­bott tests re­cent­ly pur­chased en masse by the gov­ern­ment.

The read­er “ba­si­cal­ly cre­ates a bot­tle­neck in how many tests you can ac­tu­al­ly do per day,” Kel­ly said. “If you can do it with­out a read­er then your bot­tle­neck is pret­ty much how many you can man­u­fac­ture.”

Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

Af­ter three years of courtship (and turn­downs), Mer­ck pounced on the first glance of clin­i­cal da­ta in $1.85B Pan­dion takeover

It’s almost become cliché for biotech executives to talk about the importance of keeping your options open and being prepared to go all the way. But when it comes to negotiating with a giant like Merck, a little patience can indeed go a long way.

Just ask Pandion Therapeutics.

Days ago we already learned that Merck is shelling out $1.85 billion to pick up the biotech and its slate of autoimmune hopefuls. What we didn’t know until the SEC disclosure dropped Thursday is that the deal comes after Pandion turned down two other proposals from Merck over the past three years and held out until the last minute for a sweetened deal.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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Covid-19 roundup: RE­COV­ERY tri­al halts re­cruit­ment for colchicine study af­ter find­ing ‘no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence’; Italy blocks As­traZeneca vac­cine ship­ment meant for Aus­tralia

It may be the end of the road for colchicine, an inexpensive oral anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat gout, as a potential Covid-19 treatment — at least in hospitalized patients.

The UK’s RECOVERY trial put out the word on Friday that it’s halting enrollment in its colchicine study after a data monitoring committee saw “no convincing evidence that further recruitment would provide conclusive proof of worthwhile mortality benefit either overall or in any pre-specified subgroup.”

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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