Pieris slammed with FDA hold; Bio­gen adds PhIV for Spin­raza

→ Boston-based Pieris $PIRS has been forced to hit the brakes on a slate of Phase I stud­ies for its 4-1BB/HER2 fu­sion pro­tein drug PRS-343 af­ter the FDA hit the com­pa­ny with a par­tial hold. The biotech can con­tin­ue to dose pa­tients al­ready in the stud­ies, but can’t add pa­tients un­til af­ter it con­ducts “an ad­di­tion­al in-use and com­pat­i­bil­i­ty study of PRS-343 with var­i­ous in­fu­sion ma­te­ri­als un­der spe­cif­ic con­di­tions to con­firm suit­abil­i­ty of PRS-343 for ad­min­is­tra­tion in clin­i­cal set­tings.” The biotech says no ad­verse events were cit­ed and still plans to launch their Phase II pro­gram for the drug lat­er this year — pro­vid­ed the FDA can be sat­is­fied.  “We al­so re­main on track to present com­pre­hen­sive da­ta from both the monother­a­py and ate­zolizum­ab com­bi­na­tion phase 1 stud­ies at a med­ical con­fer­ence lat­er this year,” says CEO Stephen Yo­der. Their stock was down about 6% in morn­ing trad­ing Tues­day.

Bio­gen wants to see ex­act­ly what ben­e­fits its big SMA block­buster Spin­raza can have on pa­tients who don’t re­spond suf­fi­cient­ly well to No­var­tis’ gene ther­a­py ri­val Zol­gens­ma. The big biotech says the Phase IV study was in­spired by the sto­ries of some pa­tients who went on Spin­raza af­ter the gene ther­a­py failed to prove a once-and-done treat­ment. “Avail­able da­ta now show that some pa­tients in the long-term study of Zol­gens­ma have moved on to treat­ment with Spin­raza. We be­lieve that, for cer­tain pa­tients, mo­tor neu­rons may be in­suf­fi­cient­ly treat­ed by this gene ther­a­py, and we plan to ini­ti­ate this study to un­der­stand the ex­tent to which Spin­raza may po­ten­tial­ly im­prove out­comes,” said Ma­ha Rad­hakr­ish­nan, the CMO at Bio­gen.

→ Myokar­dia is jump­ing on board Ful­crum‘s dis­cov­ery plat­form in search of new drugs to treat ge­net­ic car­diomy­opathies. The deal starts with a pay­ment of $12.5 mil­lion, with a lit­tle more than $300 mil­lion on the ta­ble for the first drug and up to $150 mil­lion more for each ad­di­tion­al pro­gram. “We have been im­pressed by Ful­crum’s abil­i­ty to dis­cov­er new bi­ol­o­gy around ge­net­ic mus­cle dis­or­ders,” not­ed Myokar­dia CSO Robert Mc­Dow­ell.

→ UPMC En­ter­pris­es, Cas­din Cap­i­tal and Dol­by Fam­i­ly Ven­tures have stepped up with an ex­tra $20 mil­lion to add to Cere­vance‘s lat­est round, bring­ing the to­tal to $65 mil­lion. Fore­site Cap­i­tal al­so chipped in some ex­tra cash on the round, which al­ready in­clud­ed GV (for­mer­ly Google Ven­tures), Bill Gates, Take­da Ven­tures, Inc., the De­men­tia Dis­cov­ery Fund and Light­stone Ven­tures. The biotech is work­ing on a pipeline of drugs aimed at a range of CNS dis­eases.

→ Ger­many’s Tubu­lis has raised €10.7 mil­lion in Se­ries A cash to back its work on an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates. Bio­Med­Part­ners and High-Tech Grün­der­fonds co-led the launch round, with con­tri­bu­tions from some in­di­vid­ual in­vestors, the founders as well as Sev­en­ture Part­ners, co­par­i­on, Bay­ern Kap­i­tal, and Oc­ci­dent. “Tubu­lis’ ob­jec­tive is to use our dual plat­form ap­proach to gen­er­ate unique­ly matched and dis­ease-spe­cif­ic AD­Cs that com­bine se­lec­tive an­ti­bod­ies with ef­fec­tive pay­loads,” said Do­minik Schu­mach­er, CEO and co-founder of Tubu­lis.

→ In more emerg­ing-from-stealth news, Bethes­da, MD-based Gain Ther­a­peu­tics re­ports that the com­pa­ny bagged a $10 mil­lion Se­ries B for their work tar­get­ing “nov­el al­losteric bind­ing sites on en­zymes for the treat­ment of rare ge­net­ic and CNS dis­eases.” They’re set­ting up 2 IND-en­abling stud­ies for their lead pro­grams. “Our pro­pri­etary and patent­ed plat­form of­fers the abil­i­ty to dis­cov­er and val­i­date pre­vi­ous­ly uniden­ti­fied non-clas­si­cal bind­ing sites on en­zymes that can be reg­u­lat­ed by our nov­el first-in-class drug can­di­dates to re­store (or gain) en­zyme func­tion in rare and dev­as­tat­ing ge­net­ic dis­eases,” said Khalid Is­lam, the founder and chair­man of Gain.

→ A col­lab­o­ra­tion in­volv­ing phar­ma gi­ants and a trio of tech trans­fer of­fices at top UK uni­ver­si­ties has out-li­censed a gene ther­a­py to Deer­field, which plans to hand it to re­searchers at their new­ly launched Cure build­ing in the heart of New York City. The pro­gram was ini­tial­ly de­vel­oped at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, which is part of the Apol­lo Ther­a­peu­tics al­liance.

→ There has been a slew of terms set for this week’s biotech IPOs. The on­col­o­gy biotech iTeos plans to raise around $151 mil­lion by pric­ing shares at $16 to $18. Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal is al­so track­ing a $75 mil­lion IPO from In­ozyme. An­nex­on, mean­while, is scout­ing for $150 mil­lion to back its work in de­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Gos­samer push­es ahead with failed asth­ma drug; Cull­gen gets $50M Se­ries B for pro­tein de­graders

After getting beaten up by investors over the key failure of its lead drug GB001, Gossamer had already indicated that they thought they could move ahead in asthma, though likely through a partnership. And the biotech is pushing forward on that front, according to a Q4 statement today, following talks with regulators.

The company reported:

Gossamer engaged with the FDA and the EMA about the clinical development path in asthma, and based off those interactions, Gossamer believes that there is a viable clinical development path for GB001, or its backup molecule, in asthma. Gossamer does not currently plan to move forward with GB001, or its backup molecule, in further clinical trials without a partner.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.