Fail­ure-prone Unum cuts jobs, los­es sci­en­tif­ic chief, and changes fo­cus yet again

At­las Ven­ture-backed Unum, which once har­bored am­bi­tions to ri­val the two CAR-T ther­a­pies Kym­ri­ah and Yescar­ta, is pay­ing the price for a laun­dry list of set­backs.

Seth Et­ten­berg Unum

On Mon­day, the Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny said it was cut­ting its work­force by 43 em­ploy­ees (rough­ly 60% of the to­tal head­count) to fo­cus its ef­forts on a pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram. It al­so dis­closed the de­par­ture of its chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, Seth Et­ten­berg, as it ceas­es the de­vel­op­ment of tri­als har­ness­ing its maid­en tech­nol­o­gy: AC­TR.

The tri­als shelved in­clude an ear­ly-stage lym­phoma pro­gram test­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal drug, AC­TR707, in com­bi­na­tion with rit­ux­imab (Roche’s MabThera), as well as a Phase I sol­id tu­mor tri­al eval­u­at­ing the com­bi­na­tion of AC­TR707 and trastuzum­ab (Roche’s Her­ceptin).

Cell ther­a­pies un­der the plat­form were en­gi­neered to arm a pa­tient’s T cells with the ar­se­nal to launch a dou­ble at­tack on can­cer cells. First, the cells are de­signed to ex­press AC­TR — a chimeric pro­tein made out of com­po­nents from T cells and nat­ur­al killer cells — and then are com­bined with the tu­mor-tar­get­ing abil­i­ty of co-ad­min­is­tered an­ti­bod­ies.

The plat­form has seen fail­ure af­ter fail­ure. Back in 2018, in its IPO fil­ing, the com­pa­ny dis­closed that two out of nine pa­tients in the high-dose arm of a clin­i­cal tri­al for their then-lead cell ther­a­py — AC­TR087 — had died, forc­ing the FDA to im­pose a clin­i­cal hold that was lift­ed just ahead of their bid to go pub­lic. While it broke no laws, the com­pa­ny’s ap­proach to trans­paren­cy didn’t win it any plau­dits — the IPO was priced at the bot­tom of the range.

Then, last year, things got worse. Ex­ec­u­tives in Ju­ly re­vealed that the FDA had slapped an­oth­er clin­i­cal hold on AC­TR087,  af­ter a pa­tient in the safe­ty co­hort of a Phase I study ex­pe­ri­enced a raft of se­ri­ous ad­verse events. By this time, Unum — which is al­so backed by F-Prime Cap­i­tal — had repri­or­i­tized its pipeline to fo­cus on AC­TR707.

Come No­vem­ber, AC­TR087 was for­mal­ly aban­doned amid a broad­er shift from hema­tol­ogy to sol­id tu­mors. The com­pa­ny’s oth­er tech plat­form, BOXR, hit the spot­light.

The tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment in many sol­id tu­mor can­cers is deeply im­muno­sup­pres­sive, block­ing T cells from func­tion­ing nor­mal­ly. Unum’s Bolt-on Chimeric Re­cep­tor (BOXR) is de­signed to “bolt-on” trans­genes to boost in­trin­sic T cell func­tion­al­i­ty to con­quer that im­muno­sup­pres­sion.

In Unum’s lat­est up­date, it looks like AC­TR707 has al­so made the scrap heap — leav­ing pre­clin­i­cal BOXR1030 as the sole fo­cus. The com­pa­ny’s shares $UM­RX wad­ed deep­er in­to pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry, dip­ping slight­ly pre­mar­ket to 54 cents.

Re­gen­er­a­tive stem cell play­er Blue­Rock Ther­a­peu­tics, mean­while, has scored the ser­vices of Unum’s erst­while CSO Et­ten­berg.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock to be act­ing FDA com­mis­sion­er while Biden team fi­nal­izes nom­i­nee — re­ports

Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

CEO Brett Monia (Ionis)

Can Brett Mo­nia push Io­n­is be­yond Spin­raza?

For 30 years, Brett Monia struggled as one of Ionis’ top scientists to get their antisense technology to work. Now, as CEO, he’s trying to use it to turn Ionis into one of the industry’s biggest biotechs.

Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Terry Rosen, Arcus CEO

Gilead part­ner Ar­cus earns an­a­lyst­s' plau­dits for ear­ly pan­cre­at­ic can­cer da­ta that 'ex­ceed­ed ex­pec­ta­tion­s'

Arcus’ small molecule CD73 inhibitor for pancreatic cancer got a standing ovation from analysts who said preliminary data “exceeded expectations”— making waves in a field that’s seen little progress in several years and proving the candidate could be worth the hundreds of millions Gilead provided upfront in a deal that included more than a billion dollars for opt-in rights and milestones.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Cog­nate dou­bles man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ties in Mem­phis, Eu­rope, as de­mand for cell and gene ther­a­pies sky­rock­ets

The marketplace for gene and cell manufacturing therapeutics continues to be scorching.

Cognate BioSciences, a leading CDMO specializing in gene and cell therapy technologies, announced plans Friday that will double its total manufacturing capacities at sites in both the US and Europe — in direct response to a “great demand of commercial capacity within the biologics industry.”

The company provided most details for its US expansion, which will take place at its current headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee near the Memphis International Airport — crucial, it said, as Memphis is one of the world’s busiest cargo airports. Cognate will add two separate facilities totaling 250,000-square-feet: a GMP distribution center to manage global supply chain needs, and a third site for commercial manufacturing.

Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hack­ers start re­leas­ing 'ma­nip­u­lat­ed' Covid-19 vac­cine docs; Ex-FDA com­mish David Kessler to re­place Mon­cef Slaoui as Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed chief — re­port

There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Nadim Ahmed (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bris­tol My­er­s' top hema­tol­ogy ex­ec is on his way out — right on the heels of a $6B CVR im­plo­sion

Fourteen days after the $6.3 billion CVR tied to the approval of liso-cel went up in smoke, one of the top execs in charge of the work at Bristol Myers Squibb is preparing to step out of his job.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed, who’s been following every twist and turn in the CVR saga, told investors on Thursday morning that Nadim Ahmed is on his way out. Syed’s note:

Recall, Ahmed is EVP and President of Hematology at BMY (i.e. JCAR017 and bb2121 are both hematological drugs). He’s still listed on the BMY management page. This is true — he’s still technically there. However, I have confirmed w/ BMY that his last day is tomorrow, Friday 1/15. To my best knowledge, Ahmed does not have another job lined up post his departure tomorrow.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen tops cost watch­dog's price gougers list based on 'un­sup­port­ed' in­creas­es for En­brel with­out mean­ing­ful da­ta

In a top 10 ranking of the most egregious price gougers from 2019, Amgen’s Enbrel topped US cost watchdog ICER’s naughty list with “unsupported” markups that added as much as $403 million to the nation’s drug spend during that time.

Price increases for some of pharma’s most popular drugs have long been a focus of consumer ire, but the industry has argued those increases are routine and meant to cover the cost of R&D innovation. Without meaningful guidance at the state or federal level, ICER looked to connect how much a drug had progressed in the clinic compared with its increase in both wholesale and net price in 2019.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.