Fortress Biotech sells bro­ker­age firm fol­low­ing Reuters ex­posé; Tra­con con­tends with an­oth­er set­back in brain can­cer

→ In the af­ter­math of a Reuters re­port shin­ing a light on its ques­tion­able re­la­tion­ship with Na­tion­al Hold­ings, Fortress Biotech an­nounced it is sell­ing con­trol of the bro­ker­age firm that’s pro­vid­ed con­sid­er­able — if in­con­spic­u­ous — fundrais­ing sup­port for its biotech ven­tures. In a deal reg­is­tered at $22.9 mil­lion, Fortress Bio will trans­fer its ma­jor­i­ty stake — 56.1% — to B. Ri­ley Fi­nan­cial, giv­ing the fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pa­ny ac­cess to 700 bro­kers, 90,000 cus­tomer ac­counts and $12 bil­lion-plus in client’s as­sets, the com­pa­nies say.

→ Tiny Tra­con $TCON has suf­fered an­oth­er brain can­cer set­back. Last year, its lead drug TRC105 failed in a Phase III NCI study in pa­tients with re­cur­rent glioblas­toma. On Mon­day, it re­port­ed dis­ap­point­ing ini­tial da­ta from a Phase II NCI study eval­u­at­ing its ex­per­i­men­tal drug, TRC102, in com­bi­na­tion with Mer­ck’s $MRK Temodar, in the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. TRC102 plus Temodar did not meet the main goal of re­sen­si­tiz­ing pa­tients to Temodar treat­ment in the ini­tial 19 en­rolled pa­tients, al­though two pa­tients met the sec­ondary end­point of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival be­yond 6 months, the com­pa­ny said. The drug con­tin­ues to be eval­u­at­ed in four on­go­ing NCI tri­als.

→ Af­ter years of see­ing its stock in the gut­ters, RXi Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $RXII has de­cid­ed to op­er­ate un­der a new ban­ner: Phio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $PHIO. The name change re­flects its de­ci­sion to con­cen­trate on im­muno-on­col­o­gy ap­pli­ca­tions for its RNA tech, the com­pa­ny says, some­thing it’s sig­naled with a T-cell re­search pact with Medi­gene an­nounced late last year.

Har­vard spin­out QurAlis has brought its to­tal amount of seed fund­ing to $5.5 mil­lion by adding BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal and Vi­va Biotech Lim­it­ed to the fold. The mon­ey, as well as a sec­ond year of spon­sored lease at Lab­Cen­tral and a new res­i­den­cy at JLABS, will sup­port QurAlis’ in ad­vanc­ing its treat­ments for amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis (ALS) and fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia to the clin­ic. “My part­ners and I have fol­lowed QurAlis’ progress close­ly dur­ing its time at Lab­Cen­tral,” said Jo­hannes Frue­hauf, pres­i­dent of Lab­Cen­tral and gen­er­al part­ner at BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal. “We be­lieve their nov­el ap­proach has the po­ten­tial to change the tra­jec­to­ry of the dis­ease, just as the an­tivi­ral ther­a­pies did for HIV in the late 1990s; we are ex­cit­ed to pro­vide our sup­port and ex­per­tise to help pro­pel the com­pa­ny for­ward.”

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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Sanofi takes a $260M hit to ex­tri­cate it­self from a dis­as­trous al­liance with Lex­i­con

Sanofi spent $300 million in cash to get into a $1.7 billion alliance with Lexicon on their SGLT1/2 diabetes drug sotagliflozin. And now that the drug has been spurned by the FDA after burning through a program that provided mixed late-stage data and a late shot at a last-place finish, the French pharma giant is forking over another $260 million to get out of the deal.

Sanofi’s unhappiness was already apparent when the company — now under new CEO Paul Hudson — posted a statement back in July that they were dropping the deal. But it wasn’t that simple. 

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.