Noubar Afeyan, Flagship founder and CEO (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship launch­es Sen­da Bio­sciences with $88M in back­ing, look­ing to pi­o­neer the field of 'In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy'

Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing has a fresh com­pa­ny out this week, one that aims to lay the ground­work for a whole new dis­ci­pline.

Sen­da Bio­sciences launched Wednes­day with $88 mil­lion in Flag­ship cash. The goal? Gain in­sights in­to the mol­e­c­u­lar con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple and co­e­volved non­hu­man species like plants and bac­te­ria, paving the way for “In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy.”

Guil­laume Pfe­fer

Guil­laume Pfe­fer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech vet­er­an who comes from GSK af­ter lead­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the com­pa­ny’s shin­gles vac­cine.

“For Sen­da, we are zoom­ing in­to what’s go­ing on at hu­man lev­els, and we rec­og­nize that these in­ter­ac­tions are the prod­uct of evo­lu­tion since the dawn of time,” Pfe­fer told End­points News. “We know which species are in­volved in our bod­ies and where.”

A cen­ter­piece of Sen­da’s pro­pri­etary tech in­volves ma­chine learn­ing to cre­ate what the com­pa­ny hopes is an en­tire­ly new class of drugs. By fo­cus­ing in part on the bac­te­ria that re­side in hu­mans, Sen­da is look­ing at po­ten­tial­ly de­vel­op­ing large mol­e­cule med­i­cines like pep­tides and nu­cle­ic acids us­ing oral ad­min­is­tra­tion, which the com­pa­ny says is a first.

In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy has been in the works at Flag­ship for some time. The firm says the dis­ci­pline is based on a decade of re­search in oth­er ar­eas, in­clud­ing mi­cro­bio­me sci­ence and com­pu­ta­tion­al bi­ol­o­gy, and the cel­lu­lar in­ter­ac­tions Sen­da is an­a­lyz­ing can be found in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent places with­in the body.

“Through the ex­plo­rations con­duct­ed by Flag­ship Labs over the last sev­er­al years we have dis­cov­ered that these in­ter­con­nec­tions have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions on hu­man health,” Flag­ship founder Noubar Afe­fan told End­points News in an email.

One prime ex­am­ple is the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sero­tonin, most of which is not found in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem but the gut. As much as 90% of sero­tonin is pro­duced in re­sponse to bac­te­ria break­ing down com­pounds with­in the di­ges­tive tract, Sen­da says, and if this reg­u­la­tion falls out of whack, it can lead to health prob­lems with both low and high blood sug­ar.

“With this ap­proach, you re­al­ize that we have a phar­ma­cy with­in us,” Pfe­fer said. “The key point is we have evolved with the bac­te­ria, and now with Sen­da are able to look with high res­o­lu­tion in­to how the species with­in us com­mu­ni­cate and par­tic­i­pate in dis­ease and health.”

David Berry

Sen­da cur­rent­ly has six on­go­ing pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams un­der its belt across mul­ti­ple ar­eas, with INDs ex­pect­ed for each by the end of 2022. In neu­rol­o­gy, Sen­da has can­di­dates in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and Parkin­son’s dis­ease. For on­col­o­gy, they’re look­ing at im­muno-on­col­o­gy and col­orec­tal can­cer. And in chron­ic and meta­bol­ic dis­ease, the first tar­gets are chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and obe­si­ty.

Specif­i­cal­ly, Pfe­fer men­tioned that Sen­da is look­ing at a bac­te­ria that in­ter­feres with L-dopa in the treat­ment of Parkin­son’s and at­tempt­ing to dis­rupt that process, thus mak­ing ther­a­pies more ef­fec­tive.

As Sen­da moves its six pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams for­ward, Pfe­fer’s goal is to con­tin­ue to de­ploy its dis­cov­ery en­gine in­to fur­ther in­di­ca­tions, set­ting up the com­pa­ny for more pro­grams once the proof of mech­a­nism has been es­tab­lished at the end of 2022.

“We are touch­ing on some­thing very fun­da­men­tal here and very pro­found,” Pfe­fer said.

The com­pa­ny was co-found­ed by sev­er­al mem­bers of Flag­ship’s team, in­clud­ing part­ners David Berry and Igna­cio Mar­tinez. Sen­da’s board will be chaired by Flag­ship’s ex­ec­u­tive part­ner John Mendlein.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; 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.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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