Image: Tony Coles, Richard Peters. Yumanity

Fresh out of be­lea­guered Mer­ri­mack, Richard Pe­ters jumps in­to the wel­come arms of Tony Coles at Yu­man­i­ty

In the five-plus years Tony Coles sailed Onyx Phar­ma ul­ti­mate­ly to a multi­bil­lion sale to Am­gen, he saw Richard Pe­ters — then a se­nior di­rec­tor of med­ical af­fairs — as a “stand­out star” who had the unique abil­i­ty to spot an op­por­tu­ni­ty and seize it.

That’s why, more than 10 years lat­er, Coles finds it “huge­ly re­as­sur­ing” to pass Pe­ters the reins to Yu­man­i­ty Ther­a­peu­tics, the biotech he co-found­ed with the late Su­san Lindquist to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases with a fresh ap­proach.

Pe­ters, of course, jumps from trou­bled can­cer biotech Mer­ri­mack — the lat­est of sev­er­al lead­er­ship roles he’s tak­en since de­camp­ing Onyx. But while Mer­ri­mack’s press re­lease sec­tion from the past year is pop­u­lat­ed with bad news af­ter bad news, he stands by the or­ga­ni­za­tion­al work he was able to do.

“We achieved a lot of the goals that the board has asked us to achieve, which was to lead a turn­around sit­u­a­tion there at the com­pa­ny,” Pe­ters said, point­ing to as­set sales, fi­nan­cial re­struc­tur­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion in pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal time­lines. “Un­for­tu­nate­ly some of the da­ta read­outs didn’t work out, and in drug de­vel­op­ment some­times you face those hur­dles but I’m proud of the tenure there.”

And Coles came pre­pared with his own ra­tio­nale on why that ac­tu­al­ly makes Pe­ters a bet­ter leader:

Hav­ing been a CEO for a very long time, I ac­tu­al­ly val­ue the skills of CEOs who suc­cess­ful­ly man­age com­pa­nies where things don’t go as planned be­cause while that’s a very dif­fer­ent skillset, it’s equal­ly valu­able to un­der­stand the el­e­ments of a busi­ness, the im­por­tant val­ue dri­vers of a busi­ness, how to man­age ad­ver­si­ty, and how to blend those skills with the growth skills, the val­ue cre­ation skills, re­al­ly to cre­ate the full pack­age. And I would say that Richard is the full pack­age.

As the new ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Coles will now team up with Pe­ters to ex­e­cute on a de­vel­op­ment plan that will ide­al­ly ush­er three pro­grams to the clin­ic by 2021, with the first Phase I tri­al planned for this fall.

The lead pro­gram is an SCD in­hibitor for Parkin­son’s dis­ease, hit­ting a tar­get iden­ti­fied by Yu­man­i­ty’s dis­cov­ery plat­form. Scour­ing both yeast and hu­man neu­rons, the tech is de­signed to search for com­pounds that can mod­u­late tox­i­c­i­ties ini­ti­at­ed by pro­tein mis­fold­ing.

“As I came to this field it was very clear to me that we need­ed new tar­gets, a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the bi­ol­o­gy of these dis­eases,” Coles said. “And that’s ex­act­ly what Yu­man­i­ty is cre­at­ing which is why the com­pa­ny is at such an ex­cit­ing junc­ture now.”

Pe­ters echoes the sen­ti­ment, call­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders “the great­est ther­a­peu­tic chal­lenge of our time.” In his new job he ex­pects to turn back to some lessons learned at Sanofi Gen­zyme, where he cham­pi­oned and over­saw a rare neu­rol­o­gy unit while head­ing rare dis­eases.

There are prac­tices to be bor­rowed, for in­stance, in uti­liz­ing bio­mark­ers for bet­ter pa­tient se­lec­tion and tri­al de­sign.

“This is some­thing that of course the rare dis­ease space has al­ways done, on­col­o­gy is do­ing now, and I re­al­ly be­lieve that neu­rol­o­gy is al­so go­ing to be fol­low­ing suit,” Pe­ters said.

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.