The Doherty Institute's Sharon Lewin (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP Images)

From Aus­tralia, new $173M re­search cen­ter strives to be at the fore­front of pan­dem­ic drug dis­cov­ery

In the bat­tle against Covid-19, vac­cines came much ear­li­er than ther­a­peu­tics. A new re­search in­sti­tu­tion in Mel­bourne wants to change that.

Ge­of­frey Cum­ming, a Cana­di­an-born oil and gas busi­ness­man, do­nat­ed AUD $250 mil­lion ($173.63 mil­lion) to es­tab­lish the Cum­ming Glob­al Cen­tre for Pan­dem­ic Ther­a­peu­tics — whose man­date is to fund “an am­bi­tious re­search pro­gram fo­cus­ing on treat­ments that can be rapid­ly adapt­ed af­ter a new virus is iden­ti­fied.”

It is among a grow­ing group of ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing one backed by the Gates Foun­da­tion and No­vo Nordisk as well as grants from the NIH, to put an em­pha­sis on an­tivi­rals as a cru­cial weapon for fu­ture pan­demics — and to pre­pare for them.

Lead­ers said they hope to at­tract a host of re­searchers to the cen­ter who can work on mol­e­c­u­lar plat­forms and com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­niques to de­vel­op new drugs at top speed.

Dun­can Maskell

“The first COVID-19 vac­cine was ap­proved in Ju­ly 2020. If a ther­a­peu­tic drug had been avail­able at scale in Ju­ly 2020, in line with COVID-19 vac­cine ap­proval, it could have pre­vent­ed mil­lions of deaths glob­al­ly,” Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne vice chan­cel­lor Dun­can Maskell said in a state­ment.

The cen­ter will be housed with­in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne’s Pe­ter Do­her­ty In­sti­tute for In­fec­tion and Im­mu­ni­ty.

“An ef­fec­tive pan­dem­ic re­sponse re­quires both vac­cines and treat­ments but in­no­va­tion in an­ti-pathogen ther­a­peu­tics has lagged in com­par­i­son to vac­cines, with $137 bil­lion pub­licly in­vest­ed glob­al­ly in vac­cines com­pared to just $7 bil­lion in ther­a­peu­tics dur­ing the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic,” Do­her­ty In­sti­tute di­rec­tor Sharon Lewin added.

Lewin first met Cum­ming in June last year, as she re­count­ed for WA­To­day. The bil­lion­aire was look­ing to do­nate to a lofty “trans­for­ma­tive” med­ical idea; Lewin spoke a lot about an­tivi­rals. Af­ter the meet­ing, Lewin as­sem­bled a team of 50 sci­en­tists to brain­storm ideas and came up with a list of projects with­in three months. They al­so got the state gov­ern­ment to com­mit AUD $75 mil­lion over 10 years.

In an in­ter­view with Reuters, she of­fered mR­NA as an ex­am­ple of tech­nolo­gies that can fos­ter much faster drug de­vel­op­ment.

“We need those tech­nolo­gies be­cause with the ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies, there isn’t a way to speed up what we cur­rent­ly do,” she said, adding that three ap­proach­es ap­pear promis­ing: nu­cle­ic acid ther­a­peu­tics, treat­ments that mod­u­late the in­nate im­mune re­sponse, and de­vel­op­ing cheap­er and sim­pler-to-use an­ti­body ther­a­pies.

The Cum­ming Cen­tre will al­so con­tin­ue to raise more funds, with a goal of ul­ti­mate­ly bring­ing in AUD $1.5 bil­lion.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Take­da to pull key hy­poparathy­roidism drug from the mar­ket en­tire­ly by end of 2024 af­ter years of man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

Takeda on Tuesday morning made an announcement that almost 3,000 people with the rare disease known as hypoparathyroidism were fearing.

Due to unresolved supply issues and manufacturing woes, Takeda said it will cut its losses and discontinue its hypoparathyroidism drug, known as Natpara (parathyroid hormone), halting all manufacturing of the drug by the end of 2024.

The decision to not re-commercialize Natpara will be a blow to not only the 2,400 people who were awaiting supplies of their reliable injection since 2019, but also the additional nearly 400 people who were accessing the drugs via the company’s Special Use Program as Takeda sought to resolve these manufacturing issues over the past five years.

Marc Dunoyer, Alexion CEO (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca nabs a small rare dis­ease gene ther­a­py play­er for 667% pre­mi­um

AstraZeneca is kicking off the fourth quarter with a little M&A Monday for a gene editing player recently overcoming a second clinical hold to its only program in human studies.

The Big Pharma and its subsidiary Alexion are buying out little LogicBio for $2.07 per share. That’s good for a massive 667% premium over its Friday closing price, when it headed into the weekend at 27 cents and just weeks after Nasdaq said LogicBio would have to delist, which has been put on hold as the biotech requests a hearing. It’s one of two biotech deals to commence October, alongside the news of Incyte buying a vitiligo-focused biotech.

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Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Astel­las, Pan­th­er­na add or­gan to mR­NA tie-up; Rock­et launch­es sale of six fig­ures worth of stock

Astellas and Pantherna have expanded their November 2021 pact surrounding the latter’s mRNA platform to include a new target organ, the duo announced Tuesday morning, though they did not specify what that target is.

German biotech Pantherna is home to two platform technologies — one that designs mRNAs for non-vaccine therapies and another that designs LNPs. Astellas and Pantherna’s deal appears to mainly revolve around the first platform, which Astellas said it is using to research direct reprogramming, or turning cells from one kind into another without an intermediate stem cell phase.