Nagesh Mahanthappa, Scholar Rock interim CEO

Go­ing so soon? Schol­ar Rock CEO makes swift ex­it, leav­ing Nagesh Ma­han­thap­pa back at the helm

Tony Kings­ley

Just over a year af­ter tak­ing the helm at Cam­bridge, MA-based Schol­ar Rock — and just as the com­pa­ny pre­pares to send its lead spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy can­di­date to Phase III — CEO Tony Kings­ley is al­ready on his way out.

Ac­cord­ing to an SEC fil­ing, the Bio­gen vet’s de­par­ture “was not the re­sult of any dis­agree­ment with the Com­pa­ny on any mat­ters re­lat­ing to the Com­pa­ny’s op­er­a­tions, poli­cies or prac­tices.”

Kings­ley de­clined a re­quest by End­points News to com­ment on the rea­son be­hind his de­par­ture, or his plans for the fu­ture. He’s al­so va­cat­ing the com­pa­ny’s board of di­rec­tors.

Schol­ar Rock’s stock $SRRK dipped near­ly 12% on Tues­day morn­ing, with shares pric­ing at $30.24 apiece.

“I am proud of what we have ac­com­plished this past year as the Com­pa­ny pre­pares for the next set of op­por­tu­ni­ties and ad­vance­ments in sci­ence and pro­grams,” the out­go­ing CEO said in a state­ment. “Schol­ar Rock has tremen­dous prospects and I look for­ward to watch­ing the Com­pa­ny’s suc­cess.”

Schol­ar Rock tapped Kings­ley as CEO last Ju­ly, just months af­ter he joined the com­pa­ny’s board of di­rec­tors. Be­fore that, he was CEO and pres­i­dent of Taris Bio, which was bought out by Janssen back in 2019.

His swift ex­it leaves Nagesh Ma­han­thap­pa — founder and for­mer CEO of Schol­ar Rock — back at the helm as the com­pa­ny search­es for a per­ma­nent chief ex­ec­u­tive. Ma­han­thap­pa had spent more than eight years lead­ing the com­pa­ny be­fore hand­ing the ba­ton to Kings­ley, and stayed on as a sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­sor.

“I am hon­ored by the op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­turn to Schol­ar Rock to lead the Com­pa­ny through this in­ter­im phase and con­tin­ue the tremen­dous progress we’ve made to­wards bring­ing our po­ten­tial­ly trans­for­ma­tive ther­a­pies to pa­tients,” Ma­han­thap­pa said in a state­ment.

Schol­ar Rock re­port­ed a $27.7 mil­lion net loss in Q1, up from a $17.1 mil­lion net loss in Q1 last year. The com­pa­ny al­so spent $5.9 mil­lion more on R&D com­pared to Q1 2020, which it says par­tial­ly re­flects man­u­fac­tur­ing costs for its lead can­di­date apite­gromab.

David Hal­lal

Ac­cord­ing to chair­man David Hal­lal, Schol­ar Rock is still “well-po­si­tioned” to launch a Phase III tri­al for apite­gromab in SMA, a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­ease that’s al­ready treat­able by ap­proved drugs like Bio­gen’s Spin­raza, No­var­tis’ Zol­gens­ma and Roche’s Evrys­di.

Un­like most drug­mak­ers, which aim to treat the con­di­tion by tar­get­ing ac­tive myo­statin, Schol­ar Rock is seek­ing out the growth fac­tor in its la­tent, or in­ac­tive state. By do­ing so, it’s eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy and dif­fer­en­ti­ate myo­statin from oth­er growth fac­tors, Ma­han­thap­pa told End­points back in 2018.

Ear­li­er this year, Schol­ar Rock read out topline re­sults from the Phase II TOPAZ tri­al in type 2 and 3 SMA pa­tients, which showed that 74% of both younger and old­er non-am­bu­la­to­ry pa­tients who were treat­ed with apite­gromab and a back­ground SMN up­reg­u­la­tor — i.e. Spin­raza — saw at least a 1-point im­prove­ment on the Ham­mer­smith Func­tion­al Mo­tor Scale Ex­pand­ed (a scale com­mon­ly used to mea­sure the phys­i­cal abil­i­ties of SMA pa­tients) over 12 months. Kings­ley said back in May that a Phase III tri­al would be­gin by the end of the year.

The com­pa­ny had al­so said it was ex­pect­ing the first da­ta from its Phase I tri­al of its im­muno-on­col­o­gy can­di­date SRK-181 lat­er this year.

“We have great con­fi­dence in Schol­ar Rock’s abil­i­ty to con­tin­ue to ex­e­cute on its op­er­at­ing plans and be­lieve Nagesh’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, and deep knowl­edge of Schol­ar Rock’s in­no­v­a­tive sci­ence and clin­i­cal pro­grams, will en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion of lead­er­ship,” Hal­lal said in a state­ment.

Schol­ar Rock did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Sen­a­tors back FDA's plan to re­quire manda­to­ry pre­scriber ed­u­ca­tion for opi­oids

Three Senate Democrats are backing an FDA plan to require mandatory prescriber education for opioids as overdose deaths have risen sharply over the past decade, with almost 97,000 American opioid-related overdose deaths in the past year alone.

While acknowledging a decline in overall opioid analgesic dispensing in recent years, the FDA said it’s reconsidering the need for mandatory prescriber training through a REMS given the current situation with overdoses, and is seeking input on the aspects of the opioid crisis that mandatory training could potentially mitigate.

Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

Boost­er bo­nan­za: FDA en­dors­es 'mix-and-match' scheme, and Mod­er­na and J&J too

The FDA late Wednesday signed off on authorizing the use of heterologous — or what FDA calls a “mix and match” of a primary vaccine series and different booster doses — for all currently available Covid-19 vaccines, in addition to separately authorizing Moderna and J&J boosters.

On the mix-and-match approach, which FDA officials insisted isn’t too confusing in a press conference, the agency offered the example of an 18-year-old who received the J&J shot at least two months ago and may now receive a single booster of the J&J, a half dose of the Moderna, or the Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

No­vo CEO Lars Fruer­gaard Jør­gensen on R&D risk, the deal strat­e­gy and tar­gets for gen­der di­ver­si­ty

 

I kicked off our European R&D summit last week with a conversation involving Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. Novo is aiming to launch a new era of obesity management with a new approval for semaglutide. And Jørgensen had a lot to say about what comes next in R&D, how they manage risk and gender diversity targets at the trendsetting European pharma giant.

John Carroll: I’m here with Lars Jørgensen, the CEO of Novo Nordisk. Lars, it’s been a really interesting year so far with Novo Nordisk, right? You’ve projected a new era of growing sales. You’ve been able to expand on the GLP-1 franchise that was already well established in diabetes now going into obesity. And I think a tremendous number of people are really interested in how that’s working out. You have forecast a growing amount of sales. We don’t know specifically how that might play out. I know a lot of the analysts have different ideas, how those numbers might play out, but that we are in fact embarking on a new era for Novo Nordisk in terms of what the company’s capable of doing and what it’s able to do and what it wants to do. And I wanted to start off by asking you about obesity in particular. Semaglutide has been approved in the United States for obesity. It’s an area of R&D that’s been very troubled for decades. There have been weight loss drugs that have come along. They’ve attracted a lot of attention, but they haven’t actually ever gained traction in the market. My first question is what’s different this time about obesity? What is different about this drug and why do you expect it to work now whereas previous drugs haven’t?

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