Google’s Ver­i­ly and Glax­o­SmithK­line hatch a $713M plan to spark a biorev­o­lu­tion

Glob­al phar­ma gi­ant Glax­o­SmithK­line is team­ing up with Google’s life sci­ences ven­ture Ver­i­ly, chan­nel­ing its four-year ef­fort to cre­ate new nan­otech-based bio­elec­tron­ic ther­a­peu­tics in­to a start­up called Gal­vani Bio­elec­tron­ics, with joint plans to in­vest $713 mil­lion in­to the ven­ture over the next sev­en years.

GSK’s Chair­man of Vac­cines, Mon­cef Slaoui

GSK’s Mon­cef Slaoui has billed this ef­fort as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary at­tempt to break out of the tra­di­tion­al mode of ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, re­think­ing the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy of drug R&D to cre­ate a com­plete­ly new de­vel­op­ment field in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals, which will now be fo­cused on in­flam­ma­to­ry, meta­bol­ic and en­docrine dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing type 2 di­a­betes. And now Ver­i­ly Life Sci­ences, for­mer­ly Google Life Sci­ences which op­er­ates un­der the new Al­pha­bet ban­ner, is mak­ing a big biotech bet that it can live up to its mis­sion to trans­form med­i­cine by part­ner­ing with GSK.

Gal­vani will be based in the UK biotech hub in Steve­nage, with an­oth­er re­search cen­ter at Ver­i­ly’s cam­pus in South San Fran­cis­co. They’ll get start­ed with a staff of 30 and GSK’s start­up en­deav­ors to date. Glaxo will own 55% of the com­pa­ny, with Ver­i­ly tak­ing the rest. Slaoui has been tapped to chair the new com­pa­ny and shep­herd one of his fa­vorite projects.

They’re not think­ing small. And they aren’t stop­ping at 30. A spokesper­son for Ver­i­ly of­fered End­points this in­sight on the new jobs that are ex­pect­ed to be cre­at­ed.

“In ad­di­tion to the 30 ini­tial FTEs, Gal­vani will fund and in­te­grate – both through strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tions with the two par­ent com­pa­nies and with oth­ers – a broad range of oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tions in acad­e­mia and with R&D com­pa­nies, build­ing on the suc­cess­ful mod­el we’ve de­vel­oped in GSK Bio­elec­tron­ics over three years. It will in­volve ap­prox­i­mate­ly 100 FTEs (full time equiv­a­lents) at Ver­i­ly and about 100 FTEs across the spec­trum of oth­er part­ner­ships. By ef­fec­tive­ly ty­ing such a net­work of ex­perts to­geth­er, we be­lieve we can rapid­ly ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cines.”

“This is an am­bi­tious col­lab­o­ra­tion al­low­ing GSK and Ver­i­ly to com­bine forces and have a huge im­pact on an emerg­ing field,” said Ver­i­ly Chief Tech­nol­o­gy Of­fi­cer Bri­an Otis. “Bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cine is a new area of ther­a­peu­tic ex­plo­ration, and we know that suc­cess will re­quire the con­flu­ence of deep dis­ease bi­ol­o­gy ex­per­tise and new high­ly minia­turised tech­nolo­gies.

Ver­i­ly’s big agen­da is to har­ness new life sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy in search of a mul­ti­tude of new ways to im­prove hu­man health and rev up a longer life with­out the many af­flic­tions that drag peo­ple down the longer they live.

In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, they start­ed out with spe­cif­ic dis­eases in mind, look­ing to di­rect nerve stim­u­la­tors that could, for ex­am­ple, in­flu­ence rheuma­toid arthri­tis. The com­pa­ny set up a spe­cial $50 mil­lion fund to help jump­start a small group of biotechs spe­cial­iz­ing in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals. A $1 mil­lion sci­ence prize was set up to help gin up some ex­cite­ment. And col­lab­o­ra­tions fol­lowed with oth­er com­pa­nies in the field. More part­ner­ing is ex­pect­ed as the new com­pa­ny gets up and run­ning.

GSK said ear­li­er this year that it plans to be in the clin­ic with its first pro­grams in 2017.

A cou­ple of years ago, GSK’s Slaoui, who now runs the vac­cines group for GSK, had this to say in an in­ter­view with The Chi­na Post:

(W)e re­al­ized that when we use chem­i­cal struc­ture or re­com­bi­nant pro­tein as a med­i­cine, what we use in fact are the struc­tures of these med­i­cines to in­ter­act with the struc­ture of a re­cep­tor or pro­tein in our body … Our body us­es struc­ture to com­mu­ni­cate with bi­ol­o­gy, but it al­so us­es elec­tri­cal im­puls­es which go through our nerves. So we asked the ques­tion: ‘Can we use elec­tri­cal im­puls­es to mod­i­fy the way or­gans func­tion?’”

“We have ev­i­dence that our body can read elec­tri­cal mes­sages we give it. This has cre­at­ed a new vi­sion to de­sign nano-tech­no­log­i­cal de­vices that will be able to read the elec­tri­cal sig­nals that are trans­mit­ting in our nerves, and hope­ful­ly (we will) be able to iden­ti­fy ab­nor­mal sig­nals … and cor­rect it by giv­ing it a dif­fer­ent sig­nal.”

To test that con­cept, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that the right elec­tron­ic puls­es could spur the pan­creas to pro­duce in­sulin, to treat di­a­betes. And an­oth­er pre­clin­i­cal test worked on blood pres­sure.

Cre­at­ing a new modal­i­ty for ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, though, presents huge and ex­pen­sive hur­dles, es­pe­cial­ly when you’re talk­ing about mass ail­ments like di­a­betes and heart dis­ease. Reg­u­la­tors put up high bars on safe­ty that most biotechs could nev­er hope to clear with a small, lim­it­ed re­search bud­get.

Ver­i­ly and Google, though, are a whole dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Google has the kind of deep pock­ets that most com­pa­ny ex­ecs can on­ly dream about. That’s al­so help­ing fund Cal­i­co, which has stealth­ily moved ahead on a num­ber of pro­grams aimed at healthy longevi­ty.

STAT has been tak­ing some round­house swings at Ver­i­ly, claim­ing that its top de­vel­op­ment pro­grams are more sci­ence fic­tion than po­ten­tial near-term tools for the life sci­ences mar­ket.

GSK doesn’t ap­pear to be both­ered by that, though.

Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Ab­b­Vie aban­dons a pi­o­neer­ing CRISPR R&D al­liance with Ed­i­tas as Brent Saun­der­s' deal is cast out

A little more than 3 years ago Allergan paid $90 million in a cash upfront to partner with gene editing player Editas on a CRISPR alliance focused on the eye. The lead program centered on LCA10, a rare, inherited retinal degenerative disease that appears in childhood and leads to blindness.

Allergan then went to AbbVie $ABBV in a buyout, and the pharma giant has no interest in moving forward on the gene editing front. The company punted it all back to Editas Thursday, with the biotech $EDIT noting in a statement after the market closed Thursday that it is regaining all rights for its ocular medicines, including EDIT-101.

President Trump speaks with members of the media before boarding Marine One (AP Images)

'Oc­to­ber is com­ing,' and every­one still wants to know if a Covid-19 vac­cine will be whisked through the FDA ahead of the elec­tion

Right on the heels of a lengthy assurance from FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn that the agency will not rush through a quick approval for a Covid-19 vaccine, the President of the United States has some thoughts on timing he’d like to share.

In an exchange with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera on Thursday, President Trump allowed that a vaccine could be ready to roll “sooner than the end of the year, could be much sooner.”

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Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Le­vo Ther­a­peu­tics miss­es pri­ma­ry end­point in PhI­II tri­al of Prad­er-Willi drug — the lat­est set­back in a dis­as­ter-prone field

Marking yet another setback in the Prader-Willi Syndrome field, Levo Therapeutics failed to hit its primary endpoint in a Phase III study of intranasal carbetocin. But the biotech is now shifting its focus to the secondary endpoints in an effort to pluck victory out of the jaws of defeat.

The disorder, characterized by a false sense of starvation, is caused by the absence or deletion of a father’s chromosome 15. Illinois-based Levo’s potential therapy involves a selective oxytocin-receptor agonist.

Leonard Schleifer (AP Images)

Re­gen­eron adds more pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta for its NGF pro­gram — but safe­ty is still a big con­cern

Two years after fasinumab hit its first late-stage bar, Regeneron is standing by its “high-risk, high reward” bet on the NGF antibody. But while new Phase III data solidified the potential reward, the risk is still threatening to blow it all up.

Regeneron execs and analysts alike now have their eyes set on a rival drug from Pfizer and Eli Lilly, whose fate at the FDA will likely set the scene for the class.