Genen­tech vet Myr­tle Pot­ter takes a lead­ing role in Vivek Ra­maswamy's fast-mov­ing Vant ops

The tal­ent mag­net that is Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Roivant Sci­ences has at­tract­ed a biotech vet­er­an to over­see op­er­a­tions of the ever-grow­ing Vant king­dom.

Myr­tle Pot­ter, a for­mer pres­i­dent and COO of Genen­tech, has been named Vant op­er­at­ing chair. The role grants her an au­to­mat­ic board mem­ber­ship at each of Roivant’s 12 biotech sub­sidiaries, where she is ex­pect­ed to as­sist the (of­ten high-pro­file) CEOs and “en­sure op­er­a­tional ex­cel­lence.”

Pot­ter had a sto­ried run in Big Phar­ma that be­gan with 14 years at Mer­ck, help­ing cre­ate the busi­ness that would lat­er be­come As­traZeneca. She lat­er moved to Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, even­tu­al­ly helm­ing its car­dio­vas­cu­lar and meta­bol­ic busi­ness and over­see­ing sev­er­al cru­cial drug launch­es — a skill she con­tin­ued to hone at Genen­tech, where un­der her watch block­buster drugs like Avastin and Xo­lair came to be known.

She fol­lowed that up by found­ing a con­sult­ing firm in 2005, ad­vis­ing a range of phar­ma, biotech, med­ical de­vice and me­dia com­pa­nies as well as VCs and in­vest­ment bankers.

Her ap­point­ment was tout­ed at Roivant’s in­au­gur­al R&D day, co­in­cid­ing with a burst of an­nounce­ments in­tend­ed to high­light the com­pa­ny’s en­thu­si­asm for its pipeline — un­de­terred even af­ter the spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure of Ax­o­vant’s first for­ay in­to Alzheimer’s cast shad­ows on founder Ra­maswamy’s abil­i­ty to bring ac­tu­al drugs to the mar­ket.

Here are the up­dates we found most in­ter­est­ing:

  • Genevant, the RNA-fo­cused joint ven­ture formed on Ar­bu­tus’ de­liv­ery tech, has inked a deal to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize five to ten ther­a­peu­tic pro­grams with Ger­man biotech uni­corn BioN­Tech. Five of these will be rare dis­ease ther­a­pies, to be de­vel­oped us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Genevant’s lipid nanopar­ti­cle plat­form and BioN­Tech’s mR­NA drug dis­cov­ery plat­form. The oth­er half of the agree­ment cov­ers a li­cense to use Genevant’s tech in five of BioN­Tech’s on­col­o­gy pro­grams — a field that the com­pa­ny is best known in, with some of its per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines al­ready part­nered with Genen­tech. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the duo will have some­thing for the clin­ic by 2020.
  • Bet­ting on the neona­tal Fc re­cep­tor (FcRn) tar­get in IgG-me­di­at­ed au­toim­mune dis­eases, Roivant is found­ing yet an­oth­er sub­sidiary called Im­muno­vant to de­vel­op what it’s call­ing RVT-1401, a mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body it in-li­censed from HanAll.
  • En­zy­vant has sub­mit­ted a bi­o­log­ics li­cense ap­pli­ca­tion — its first — for RVT-802, which treats an ex­treme­ly rare dis­ease called Di­Ge­orge Anom­aly, a fa­tal con­di­tion char­ac­ter­ized by an in­abil­i­ty to fight off in­fec­tions.

Ra­maswamy has be­come one of the most en­vied and de­spised ex­ec­u­tives in biotech. Love him or hate him, he’s raised more than $2 bil­lion for this com­pa­ny and its sub­sidiaries. Af­ter the lead pro­gram for Alzheimer’s blew up in dis­grace, the col­lec­tive still has 30 drugs in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment com­pared to 13 a years ago. The group, which al­so re­cent­ly re­or­ga­nized with lay­offs, now has 672 em­ploy­ees com­pared 262 a year ago; 12 vants now ver­sus 5 at this point in 2017.

Im­age: Myr­tle Pot­ter (via YouTube)

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.

Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Jan van de Winkel, Genmab CEO

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, Gen­mab turn on TV for a high­light reel in cer­vi­cal can­cer — but a ri­val biotech promis­es a bet­ter show

Seattle Genetics $SGEN and their partners at Genmab $GMAB polished up some positive Phase II numbers for their antibody drug conjugate tisotumab vedotin — you can call it TV — for recurrent cervical cancer. And while they mapped out a shortcut to a potential quick approval, the big challenge for this team is being presented by a rival biotech which muscled its way into the spotlight for the same indication a year ago.

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