Fu­ji­film's CD­MO carves foothold in Boston biotech hub with new HQ fo­cused on vi­ral vec­tors, gene ther­a­pies

On the heels of a red-let­ter year for con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers, Japan’s Fu­ji­film has seen its CD­MO arm — Fu­ji­film Diosynth Biotech­nolo­gies — earn in­ter­est from ma­jor Covid-19 vac­cine mak­ers for its vi­ral-vec­tor ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Now, the drug­mak­er is look­ing to lock down its US foot­print in the bustling Boston biotech hub.

Fu­ji­film will in­vest rough­ly $40 mil­lion (or 4 bil­lion yen) in a new head­quar­ters in the greater Boston area for its CD­MO arm, which will al­so func­tion as its third vi­ral-vec­tor man­u­fac­tur­ing site.

The Boston fa­cil­i­ty, Fu­ji­film’s sec­ond US lo­ca­tion, is set to be­gin process de­vel­op­ment analy­ses and ex­per­i­ments for con­di­tion­ing cell cul­ti­va­tion by the fall of 2021. The ca­pac­i­ty for drug sub­stance man­u­fac­tur­ing in ear­ly-stage clin­i­cal tri­als will come lat­er, in fall 2023, the com­pa­ny said in a press re­lease.

Fu­ji­film al­so has a vi­ral-vec­tor plant in Texas — that fa­cil­i­ty opened in 2014 and has since un­der­gone a $120 mil­lion ex­pan­sion to fur­ther in­crease man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty. In Oc­to­ber, the com­pa­ny al­so an­nounced plans for a gene ther­a­py site in the UK, which it said would be op­er­a­tional by this spring.

The ef­forts to ramp up its im­pact in vi­ral-vec­tor ther­a­peu­tics is the lat­est in Fu­ji­film’s years-long in­vest­ments across bio­phar­ma man­u­fac­tur­ing. In 2017, the spot­light was on ex­pand­ing mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body fa­cil­i­ties, and the year af­ter, the con­glom­er­ate ven­tured to re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine by buy­ing two com­pa­nies spe­cial­iz­ing in cell-cul­ture me­dia.

Now, the newest CD­MO in­vest­ment is aimed at an ul­ti­mate goal of ful­fill­ing un­met med­ical needs, Fu­ji­film se­nior ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Takatoshi Ishikawa said in a state­ment.

“The strength of Fu­ji­film’s Bio CD­MO busi­ness lies in its wide-range of ca­pa­bil­i­ties: process de­vel­op­ment for a va­ri­ety of bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal such as an­ti­bod­ies, re­com­bi­nant pro­tein, gene ther­a­py, vac­cines, on­colyt­ic virus and more, along with flex­i­ble fa­cil­i­ties that can adapt to small or large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing of drug sub­stances, for­mu­la­tion and pack­ag­ing,” he said.

Fu­ji­film — par­ent com­pa­ny, not the CD­MO — in re­cent months has pur­sued a Covid-19 niche for flu drug Avi­gan, a drug thought ear­ly in the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic to be promis­ing. Two weeks ago, how­ev­er, the Japan­ese health min­istry de­ter­mined that it found da­ta on the drug’s ef­fec­tive­ness to be in­con­clu­sive.

Al­so known as favipi­ravir, the drug showed im­prove­ment in non-se­vere Covid-19 cas­es af­ter 11.9 days, short­er than the 14.7 days for those in a place­bo group, ac­cord­ing to a 156-per­son tri­al test. Per Japan­ese me­dia re­ports, though, the tri­al was open-la­bel and some of the cri­te­ria were un­clear, lead­ing to the hes­i­tan­cy from state reg­u­la­to­ry agen­cies.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Northway Biotech's new manufacturing facility in Greater Boston

North­way Biotech sets up shop in Boston hub, look­ing to court more cus­tomers with bi­o­log­ics-fo­cused plant

Getting a foot in the door in Boston’s bustling biopharma hub is a rite of passage for many companies, but it comes with a steep price tag. Lithuanian CDMO Northway — now with a new moniker — will set up a new plant in close proximity, and it’s hoping its biologics focus will find a willing customer base.

Northway Biotech (formerly Northway Biotechpharma) on Wednesday held a virtual grand opening ceremony for its $40 million Waltham, MA facility — a 30,000 square-foot cGMP manufacturing and process development plant that will widely expand on the company’s previous capabilities.

News brief­ing: Five pub­lic biotechs, over 2 days, raise $883M from fresh of­fer­ings; Bel­gian biotech ex­pands Se­ries B fund­ing

The wave of biotech IPOs we’ve been seeing in the last few days underscores that the public markets remain one of the key channels for fresh investments in drug R&D. And that trend was in full view this week as a slate of biotechs nailed down hundreds of millions of dollars in fresh funds.

One of the big winners of the week is Editas $EDIT, which nailed $231 million to back its pioneering work on a gene editing platform. The biotech sold 3.5 million shares at $66 each.

Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (GSK via YouTube)

Glax­o­SmithK­line's $4B bis­pe­cif­ic can­cer drug al­liance with Mer­ck KGaA hit by big set­back with a PhI­II fail­ure on NSCLC

Close to 2 years ago, GSK’s R&D team eagerly agreed to pay up to $4 billion-plus to ally itself with Merck KGaA on a mid-stage bispecific called bintrafusp alfa, which intrigued them with the combination of a TGF-β trap with the anti-PD-L1 mechanism in one fusion protein.

But today the German pharma company says that their lead study on lung cancer was a bust, as independent monitors said there was no reason to believe that the experimental drug — targeting PD-L1/TGF-Beta — could beat Keytruda.

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Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO CEO (BIO via YouTube)

BIO looks to re­struc­ture, lay­ing off staff amid chal­lenge to the trade org's nor­mal face-to-face style

The biopharma industry, on the whole, had a red-letter year in 2020 amid Covid-19, with fundraising at an all-time high and major players speeding vaccines ahead to approval. But for BIO, the industry’s leading trade organization, the pandemic has prompted a reconsideration of the game plan.

BIO will pivot to digital as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, making “some staff reductions” as it looks to bring its roughly 37,000 in-person meetings each year to the web, the organization said Thursday.

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Covid-19 roundup: Italy won­ders aloud if it can sue Pfiz­er for vac­cine short­falls; Flood, dead­ly fire threat­en As­traZeneca vac­cine plants

As reports crop up that deliveries of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine are being unexpectedly cut, Italy wonders if it can take the vaccine developers to court, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

After its shipment for this week was cut by 29%, the Italian government consulted its attorney general about taking legal action, the WSJ reported. Pfizer and BioNTech had warned the EU and Canada last week that their allocations would be reduced as Pfizer upgrades its Belgium factory. What Italy says it doesn’t appreciate, though, is the short notice.