FDA lifts hold on Abeon­a's but­ter­fly dis­ease ther­a­py, paving way for piv­otal study

It’s been a dif­fi­cult few years for gene and cell ther­a­py start­up Abeona Ther­a­peu­tics. Its new­ly crowned chief Carsten Thiel was forced out last year fol­low­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of un­spec­i­fied “per­son­al mis­con­duct,” and this Sep­tem­ber, the FDA im­posed a clin­i­cal hold on its ther­a­py for a form of “but­ter­fly” dis­ease. But things are be­gin­ning to perk up. On Mon­day, the com­pa­ny said the reg­u­la­tor had lift­ed its hold and the ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py is now set to be eval­u­at­ed in a late-stage study.

Carsten Thiel

The ther­a­py, EB-101, is be­ing de­vel­oped to treat re­ces­sive dy­s­troph­ic epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa, which is caused by the de­fi­cien­cy of the pro­tein COL7 and for which there is no ap­proved ther­a­py. Abeona’s au­tol­o­gous ther­a­py in­volves trans­fer­ring COL7A1 genes in­to a pa­tient’s own skin cells, fol­low­ing which the cells are trans­plant­ed back in­to the pa­tient to en­able nor­mal Type VII col­la­gen ex­pres­sion and wound heal­ing.

Ear­ly Phase I/II da­ta show that EB-101 was safe and in­duced durable wound heal­ing with up to five years of fol­lowup, and Type VII col­la­gen ex­pres­sion was ob­served more than two years af­ter treat­ment. How­ev­er, in Sep­tem­ber, the FDA im­posed a hold on the pro­gram, ask­ing for ad­di­tion­al da­ta points on the “trans­port sta­bil­i­ty of EB-101 to clin­i­cal sites.”

The com­pa­ny, which al­so said it was re­view­ing ‘strate­gic op­tions’ in re­sponse to in­ter­est ear­li­er this year, now ex­pects to kick off the late-stage VI­ITAL study in the first quar­ter of 2020. The tri­al is ex­pect­ed to en­roll 10 to 15 pa­tients, with rough­ly 30 chron­ic wound sites. The main end­point of the study is the pro­por­tion of wounds with greater than 50% heal­ing at three months, com­par­ing treat­ed with un­treat­ed wound sites on the same pa­tient.

Abeona’s shares $ABEO jumped more than 9% to $3.28 in ear­ly Mon­day trad­ing.

Epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa (EB) is a group of ge­net­ic skin con­di­tions that cause the skin to blis­ter and tear due to min­i­mal con­tact — in­fants born with the dis­ease are called ‘but­ter­fly chil­dren’ as their skin is con­sid­ered as frag­ile as a wing of a but­ter­fly.

In April, Cas­tle Creek swooped to part­ner with the em­bat­tled gene and cell ther­a­py Fi­bro­cell to shep­herd its lead gene ther­a­py for re­ces­sive dy­s­troph­ic epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa in­to late-stage de­vel­op­ment. Months lat­er, the New Jer­sey-based der­ma­tol­ogy com­pa­ny ac­quired its part­ner in a deal worth $63.3 mil­lion.

Inside FDA HQ (File photo)

The FDA just ap­proved the third Duchenne MD drug. And reg­u­la­tors still don’t know if any of them work

Last year Sarepta hit center stage with the FDA’s controversial reversal of its CRL for the company’s second Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug — after the biotech was ambushed by agency insiders ready to reject a second pitch based on the same disease biomarker used for the first approval for eteplirsen, without actual data on the efficacy of the drug.

On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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FDA ap­proves the third NSOMD drug in 18 months as Roche/Genen­tech beefs up its port­fo­lio of drugs for neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders

There were no FDA approved treatments for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder at the start of 2019. Now, as of Friday, there are three.

The latest entrant to the market is the Roche/Genentech drug satralizumab after US regulators gave it the thumbs up late Friday. An IL-6 inhibitor, the drug joins Alexion’s Soliris and AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio’s Uplizna. The annual cost of satralizumab — which will hit the market as Enspryng — will be $190,000 for 13 doses, a Genentech spokesperson said, though the first year of treatment requires 15 doses and cost about $220,000.

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Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO

UP­DAT­ED: On the heels of a snap $1B raise, Cure­Vac out­lines plans to seek emer­gency OK for Covid-19 vac­cine -- shares rock­et up

CureVac is going from being one of the quietest players in the race to develop a new vaccine to fight the worst public health crisis in a century to a challenger for the multibillion-dollar market that awaits the first vaccines to make it over the finish line. Typically low-key at a time of brash comments and incredibly ambitious development timelines from the leaders, CureVac now is jumping straight into the spotlight.

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US gov­ern­ment re­port­ed­ly be­gins prepar­ing for Covid-19 chal­lenge tri­als. Are they eth­i­cal?

Controversial human challenge trials for potential Covid-19 vaccines reportedly have a new booster — the US government.

Scientists working for the government have begun manufacturing a strain of the novel coronavirus that could be used in such studies, Reuters reported Friday morning. The trials would enroll healthy volunteers to be vaccinated and then intentionally infected with a weakened coronavirus.

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James Wilson, WuXi Global Forum at JPM20

FDA puts up a red light for Pas­sage Bio’s first gene ther­a­py pro­gram, de­lay­ing a pro­gram from James Wilson's group at Penn

Gene therapy pioneer James Wilson spearheaded animal studies demonstrating the potential of new treatments injected directly into the brain, looking to jumpstart a once-and-done fix for an extraordinarily rare disease called GM1 gangliosidosis in infants. His team at the University of Pennsylvania published their work on monkeys and handed it over to Passage Bio, a Wilson-inspired startup building a pipeline of gene therapies — with an IND for PBGM01 to lead the way.

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Cal­lid­i­tas bets up to $102M on a biotech buy­out, snag­ging a once-failed PBC drug

After spending years developing its oral formulation of the corticosteroid budesonide, Sweden’s Calliditas now has its sights set on the primary biliary cholangitis field.

The company will buy out France-based Genkyotex, and it’s willing to bet up to €87 million ($102 million) that Genkyotex’s failed Phase II drug, GKT831, will do better in late-stage trials.

Under the current agreement, Calliditas $CALT will initially pay €20.3 million in cash for 62.7% of Genkyotex (or €2.80 a piece for 7,236,515 shares) in early October, then circle back for the rest of Genkyotex’s shares under the same terms. If nothing changes, the whole buyout will cost Calliditas €32.3 million, plus up to  €55 million in contingent rights.

Trevor Martin (Mammoth)

Eye­ing in-vi­vo edit­ing, Mam­moth li­cens­es Jen­nifer Doud­na’s new CRISPR en­zyme

Last month, Jennifer Doudna revealed in Science a new, “hyper-compact” CRISPR enzyme that was half the size of traditional CRISPR enzymes and could, she suspected, offer a new, more versatile tool for gene editing.

Now, the University of California-Berkeley has licensed that enzyme, known as Casφ, exclusively to a biotech startup she and two former students set up three years ago: Mammoth Biosciences. It’s the second new CRISPR protein Mammoth has licensed from Doudna’s lab, after they licensed Cas14 in 2019.

Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

Stéphane Bancel speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House meeting on March 2 (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na of­fers steep dis­count in US sup­ply deal — but still takes the crown with close to $2.5B in vac­cine con­tracts

The US pre-order for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is in.

Operation Warp Speed is reserving $1.525 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna’s Phase III mRNA candidate, rounding out to about $15 per dose — including $300 million in incentive payments for timely delivery. Given that Moderna has a two-dose regimen, it’s good for vaccinating 50 million people. The US government also has the option to purchase another 400 million doses for a total of $6.6 billion, or $16.5 per dose.

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