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.”

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials, and could help shore up public trust in the agency and any eventual vaccine.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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Isaac Veinbergs, Libra CEO

With $29M in Se­ries A, Boehringer-backed Li­bra looks to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion through cel­lu­lar clean­ing

Can the natural process by which cells clean out toxic proteins be harnessed to create potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders?

That’s the question Libra Therapeutics will be trying to answer, as the new biotech officially launched Wednesday morning with $29 million in Series A financing. The company has three preclinical programs at the ready, with its lead candidate targeting ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But CEO Isaac Veinbergs said he hopes to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech celebrate its two-year anniversary? For Immetas Therapeutics, it’s with an $11 million Series A round and a game plan to fight age-related disease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sinclair came together years ago around the idea that inflammation is the ultimate process driving age-related illnesses, including cancer. The duo launched Immetas in 2018 and packed the staff with industry experts. Wang, who says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, has held lead roles at Novartis, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. He’s worked on blockbuster drugs like Humira, Gardasil, Varubi and Zolinza. And now, he’s channeling that spirit as CEO.

News brief­ing: Tiny Vac­cinex's drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton's tri­al, stock craters; Siol­ta nabs $30M Se­ries B to de­vel­op mi­cro­bio­me drug

Siolta Therapeutics, a microbiome company targeting allergic diseases, raked in a $30 million Series B to develop its lead candidate, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is headed for proof-of-concept trials, according to the company. Its various indications include allergic asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and allergy prevention.

The news comes just after the California-based biotech added a prominent biopharma veteran as an advisor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Martin. The biotech also gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Protagonist Therapeutics.