FDA slaps a hold on Sol­id Bio's gene ther­a­py for Duchenne MD in wake of safe­ty alert

Just a few weeks af­ter Sol­id Bio­sciences $SLDB put out an 11th hour no­tice that its gene ther­a­py for Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy had been put on a par­tial clin­i­cal hold due to safe­ty con­cerns, just ahead of its $125 mil­lion IPO, the biotech is back Wednes­day evening with the news that the agency has now halt­ed the study in the wake of an ad­verse re­ac­tion to the ther­a­py by the first pa­tient in the tri­al.

The stock plunged 54% af­ter the news hit, sig­ni­fy­ing that this time around in­vestors aren’t quite so san­guine about safe­ty is­sues. But the pain didn’t end there. JP­Mor­gan, which helped on the IPO, turned bear­ish on the news and cau­tioned on the com­pa­ny’s prospects in the wake of a safe­ty is­sue that raised se­ri­ous doubts about Sol­id’s ex­ec­u­tive team. By mid-af­ter­noon on Thurs­day, the stock was down 63%, shear­ing off more than $600 mil­lion in val­ue.

“In our view, it will like­ly take com­pelling clin­i­cal da­ta to re­gain con­fi­dence in man­age­ment (not ex­pect­ed in the near-term),” said JP Mor­gan’s Anu­pam Ra­ma, ac­cord­ing to a Bloomberg re­port.  Ra­ma set the new price at $9, a sick­en­ing drop from the $16 price they launched at.

Sol­id Bio CEO Ilan Gan­ot

This is from Sol­id’s state­ment:

The first pa­tient dosed in the clin­i­cal tri­al was a non-am­bu­la­to­ry ado­les­cent who re­ceived 5E13 vg/kg of SGT-001 on Feb­ru­ary 14, 2018. Sev­er­al days af­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion the pa­tient was hos­pi­tal­ized due to lab­o­ra­to­ry find­ings that in­clud­ed a de­crease in platelet count fol­lowed by a re­duc­tion in red blood cell count and ev­i­dence of com­ple­ment ac­ti­va­tion. The pa­tient showed no signs or symp­toms of co­ag­u­lopa­thy (bleed­ing dis­or­der) and no rel­e­vant changes from base­line in liv­er func­tion tests. The pa­tient re­spond­ed well to med­ical treat­ment and is cur­rent­ly asymp­to­matic. All lab­o­ra­to­ry pa­ra­me­ters have ei­ther im­proved or re­turned to nor­mal, and he is con­tin­u­ing out­pa­tient as­sess­ments per pro­to­col.

The FDA is like­ly on high alert on Sol­id af­ter James Wil­son, a pi­o­neer in gene ther­a­py who de­vel­oped the AAV de­liv­ery tech that Sol­id is us­ing, re­signed from the ad­vi­so­ry board af­ter an an­i­mal study raised a red flag about po­ten­tial safe­ty is­sues when used at a high dose. Wil­son was alarmed af­ter a mon­key was killed by liv­er tox­i­c­i­ty af­ter be­ing ex­posed to a high dose AAV treat­ment, with ev­i­dence of mo­tor neu­ron dam­age in piglets. A num­ber of com­pa­nies use AAV tech in-li­censed for their work. But none of the oth­ers has been hit with a hold.

Sol­id CEO Ilan Gan­ot — a for­mer JP Mor­gan in­vest­ment banker — has made much of the fact that he’s a Duchenne MD dad out to find a gene ther­a­py that could cure the lethal, rare dis­ease. By in­tro­duc­ing a syn­thet­ic dy­s­trophin trans­gene con­struct, called mi­crody­s­trophin, via a vi­ral vec­tor, the com­pa­ny hopes to prove it can do what Sarep­ta and oth­ers have been grop­ing for with one de­ci­sive in­ter­ven­tion. And he had at­tract­ed some heavy­weight back­ers, in­clud­ing RA Cap­i­tal and their col­leagues at Bain.

Some an­a­lysts sup­port­ing Sarep­ta $SRPT in the race to de­vel­op a gene ther­a­py for DMD are like­ly to glee­ful­ly sug­gest that Sol­id’s trou­bles are Sarep­ta’s boon. Sarep­ta has dosed a cou­ple of pa­tients now, look­ing for a one-time ther­a­py to help save boys from a dev­as­tat­ing ill­ness.

Gan­ot’s de­ci­sion to keep the par­tial hold out of the news while it was do­ing a road show on the IPO rais­es ques­tions about the lev­el of trans­paren­cy – or lack it – that al­lows pri­vate drug de­vel­op­ers to op­er­ate in se­cre­cy. Aside from no­ti­fy­ing re­searchers, reg­u­la­tors and pa­tients, a pri­vate de­vel­op­er is not re­quired to air safe­ty is­sues. The FDA cer­tain­ly won’t say any­thing. And we saw the ex­act same thing play out re­cent­ly when Unum filed their IPO, re­veal­ing two pa­tient deaths months ear­li­er and a clin­i­cal hold on the high dose of their lead cell ther­a­py, which they sub­se­quent­ly dumped.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech says it’s work­ing with the FDA on get­ting the hold lift­ed.

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

eF­FEC­TOR co-founder Siegfried Re­ich jumps to Turn­ing Point; An­to­nio Gual­ber­to starts post-Ku­ra ca­reer at Ei­sai sub­sidiary H3

→ Seasoned drug hunter Siegfried Reich has left eFFECTOR, the biotech he co-founded to discover selective translation regulators, to take up the CSO role at Turning Point Therapeutics.

“I have followed the progress Turning Point has made, and was drawn to its focus on drug discovery and its work to advance the pipeline,” Reich told Endpoints News. “I was also impressed by the depth of its management team and board, many of whom I have worked with before.”

Jim Scholefield via PR Newswire

Mer­ck los­es its chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, spot­light­ing tal­ent hunt for the hottest ti­tle in Big Phar­ma

Over the last few years we’ve seen the chief digital officer title become one of the hottest commodities in Big Pharma as global organizations hunt the best talent to sharpen the cutting edge of their tech platforms.

But Merck just discovered how hard it may be to keep them focused on pharma.

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Kathy High (file photo)

Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Kathy High has left Spark af­ter com­plet­ing $4.3B union with Roche

Kathy High dedicated the past seven years of her life shepherding experimental gene therapies she’s developed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the market as president and head of R&D at Spark Therapeutics. Now that the biotech startup is fully absorbed into Roche — with an FDA approval, a $4.3 billion buyout and a promising hemophilia program to boast — she’s ready to move on.

Roche confirmed her departure with Endpoints News and noted “she will take some well-deserved time off and then will begin a new chapter in a sabbatical at a university.”

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Say good­bye to Toca­gen, strug­gling brain can­cer biotech to re­verse merge with Forte Bio­sciences

Five months after a huge Phase III failure triggered mass layoffs at the company, Tocagen will sign itself out of existence.

The biotech, once focused on brain cancer, announced it has signed a reverse merger agreement with Forte Biosciences, a biotech tackling atopic dermatitis and other inflammatory skin diseases. Tocagen’s stock shot up 85% on the news, although that only translated to a 41-cent bump for a company that saw the last of its value go poof in September. The new company will trade under the ticker $FBRX.

Tal Zaks (Moderna via YouTube)

For two decades, a new vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has been slow­ly ap­proach­ing prime time. Now, can it stop a pan­dem­ic?

Two months before the outbreak, Moderna CMO Tal Zaks traveled from Cambridge, MA to Washington DC to meet with Anthony Fauci and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health.

For two years, Moderna had worked closely with NIH researchers to build a new kind of vaccine for MERS, one of the deadliest new viruses to emerge in the 21st century. The program was one test for a new technology designed to be faster, cheaper and more precise than the ways vaccines had been made for over a century. They had gathered evidence the technology could work in principle, and Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a longtime advocate for better epidemic preparedness, wanted to see if it, along with a couple of other approaches, could work in a worst-case scenario: A pandemic.

“[We were] trying to find a test case for how to demonstrate if our technology could rapidly prepare,” Zaks told Endpoints News.

Zaks and Fauci, of course, wouldn’t have to wait to develop a new test. By year’s end, an outbreak in China would short circuit the need for one and throw them into 24/7 work on a real-world emergency. They also weren’t the only ones with new technology who saw a chance to help in a crisis.

An ocean away, Lidia Oostvogels was still on vacation and relaxing at her mother’s house in Belgium when her Facebook started changing. It was days after Christmas and on most people’s feeds, the news that China had reported a novel virus to the World Health Organization blurred into the stream of holiday sweaters and fir trees. But on Oostvogels’s feed, full of vaccine researchers and virus experts, speculation boiled: There was a virus in China, something contained to the country, but “exotic,” “weird,” and maybe having to do with animals. Maybe a coronavirus.

Lidia Oostvogels

“I was immediately thinking like, ‘Hey, this is something that if needed, we can play a role,'” Oostvogels told Endpoints.

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Christos Kyratsous (via LinkedIn)

He built a MERS treat­ment in 6 months and then the best Ebo­la drug. Now Chris­tos Kyrat­sous turns his sights on Covid-19

TARRYTOWN, NY — In 2015, as the Ebola epidemic raged through swaths of West Africa, Kristen Pascal’s roommates sat her down on their couch and staged an intervention.

“Are you sure this is what you want to be doing with your life?” she recalls them asking her.

Special report

Pascal, a research associate for Regeneron, had been coming home at 2 am and leaving at 6 am. At one point, she didn’t see her roommate for a week. For months, that was life in Christos Kyratsous’ lab as the pair led a company-wide race to develop the first drug that could effectively treat Ebola before the outbreak ended. For Pascal, that was worth it.

“I’m ok, I don’t have Ebola,” Pascal told them. “I see that death toll rising and I can’t not do something about it.”

Last August, Regeneron learned they had succeeded: In a large trial across West Africa, their drug, REGN-EB3, was vastly more effective than the standard treatments. It was surprise news for the company, coming just 10 months into a trial they thought would take several years and a major victory in the global fight against a deadly virus that killed over 2,000 in 2019 and can carry a mortality rate of up to 90%.

For Kyratsous and Pascal, though, it brought only fleeting reprieve. Just four months after the NIH informed them REGN-EB3 worked, Kyratsous was back in his office reading the New York Times for updates on a new outbreak on another continent, and wondering alongside Pascal and senior management whether it was time to pull the trigger again.

In late January, as the death toll swelled and the first confirmed cases outside China broke double digits, they made a decision. Soon they were back on the phone with the multiple government agencies and their coronavirus partners at the University of Maryland’s Level 3 bio lab. The question was simple: Can Kyratsous and his team use a process honed over two previous outbreaks, and create a treatment before the newest epidemic ends? Or worse, if, as world health experts fear, it doesn’t vanish but becomes a recurrent virus like the flu?

“Christos likes things immediately,” Matt Frieman, Regeneron’s coronavirus collaborator at the University of Maryland, told Endpoints. “That’s what makes us good collaborators: We push each other to develop things faster and faster.”

Kristen Pascal (Regeneron)

Click on the image to see the full-sized version

The first time Regeneron tried to respond to a global outbreak, it was something of a systems test, Kyratsous explains from his office at Regeneron’s Tarrytown headquarters. Kyratsous, newly promoted, has crammed it with photos of his family, sketches of viral vectors and a shark he drew for his 3-year-old son. He speaks rapidly – an idiosyncrasy his press person says has only been aggravated this afternoon by the contents of his “Regeneron Infectious Diseases”-minted espresso glass – and he gesticulates with similar fluidity, tumbling through antibodies, MERS, the novel coronavirus, Ebola-infected monkeys.

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JJ Bienaimé (BioMarin via YouTube)

Speedy re­view and no ad­comm for Bio­Mar­in's pi­o­neer­ing he­mo­phil­ia gene ther­a­py

BioMarin’s keenly anticipated hemophilia A gene therapy — which CEO JJ Bienaimé envisions pricing at an eye-watering $2 million to $3 million a shot — has secured red carpet treatment at the FDA.

The therapy, fondly called valrox, has won priority review — and there the agency has indicated there are no plans for an advisory committee meeting. The US regulator’s final decision is expected by August 21. If approved, it will be the pioneering gene therapy for hemophilia.

“While the company…indicated that FDA does not currently plan on convening an advisory committee meeting to discuss the merits of the application, we caution that the possibility of such still remains as the agency digs into its review, which could be interpreted negatively by the Street,” BMO Capital Market’s George Farmer wrote.

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Don't let Ab­b­Vie fool FTC with an easy di­vesti­ture, plead crit­ics in lat­est at­tack on $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out

If the FTC must let AbbVie and Allergan go ahead with their merger, at least make them divest their latest blockbuster on the market, a chorus of unions, consumer groups and public interest organizations plead in a new attempt to rein in the megamerger.

There’s a second part to their argument: If the antitrust watchdog does greenlight the divestiture AbbVie wants, then at least ensure the pharma giant cannot corner its future rivals with its exclusionary tactics.

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