Then-Prince Felipe of Spain (R) toasts with Victor Grifols Roura (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Gri­fols makes a $146M bet on a Stan­ford play in a con­tro­ver­sial an­ti-ag­ing field

For the last cou­ple of years, when it came to the vague­ly vam­pir­ic field of young blood plas­ma trans­fu­sions, there was Alka­h­est and there was every­one else.

Since the field was briefly mocked on Sil­i­con Val­ley in 2017, one start­up charged $8,000 to $12,000 to pump the el­der­ly with the plas­ma of young donors and one doc­tor pitched his clin­i­cal tri­al in a glitzy West Palm Beach gala where he re­mind­ed re­tirees they were like­ly to die soon, prompt­ing FDA’s chief Scott Got­tlieb to warn such treat­ments were “un­proven” and that “some pa­tients are be­ing preyed up­on by un­scrupu­lous ac­tors.” But Alka­h­est, found­ed by a Genen­tech al­umn and a Stan­ford neu­ro­sci­en­tist, has promised to take a more mea­sured, sci­en­tif­ic ap­proach to the still-fringe sci­ence, run­ning phased clin­i­cal tri­als for their plas­ma-de­rived prod­ucts and couch­ing their press re­leas­es ac­cord­ing­ly.

Now, the plas­ma gi­ant Gri­fols is go­ing all-in on their work. On La­bor Day, the Span­ish com­pa­ny an­nounced they would buy out the re­main­ing shares of the start­up they didn’t al­ready own, spend­ing $146 mil­lion for just over 50% of Alka­h­est’s stock.

Gri­fols is a rough­ly $15 bil­lion com­pa­ny, so the buy­out is not ex­act­ly a huge out­lay for them. Nor is the near­ly $300 mil­lion mar­ket val­ue this deal places on Alka­h­est near­ly enough to rank them among the in­dus­try’s most valu­able play­ers. Still, the ac­qui­si­tion rep­re­sents a ma­jor val­i­da­tion for a com­pa­ny and a young-blood field that has grown up large­ly on the fringes of the bio­med­ical main­stream. And it amounts to a step for­ward for the an­ti-ag­ing field more broad­ly, which has strug­gled to make gains de­spite sig­nif­i­cant big-name in­vest­ment over the last few years.

The new deal is about four times what Gri­fols paid for the first 45% of Alka­h­est’s stock in 2015. The start­up has re­lied on Gri­fols to col­lect plas­ma for its prod­ucts.

“We saw the promise of Alka­h­est’s un­der­stand­ing of ag­ing when we made our first in­vest­ment and en­tered in­to a col­lab­o­ra­tion agree­ment with them five years ago,” Gri­fols CEO Víc­tor Grí­fols said in a state­ment. “Now we see a wealth of plas­ma-de­rived and non-plas­ma ther­a­peu­tic can­di­dates iden­ti­fied by Alka­h­est that can sig­nif­i­cant­ly sup­port the un­met needs of many dis­eases as­so­ci­at­ed with ag­ing.”

Un­like, say, Am­brosia (the afore­men­tioned $8,000 in­fu­sion com­pa­ny), Alka­h­est doesn’t give plas­ma di­rect­ly from young donors to the el­der­ly. In­stead, it has worked since 2014 on map­ping the pro­teins in plas­ma and dis­till­ing a cock­tail of rough­ly 400 dif­fer­ent types of pro­teins it be­lieves can make a dif­fer­ence in treat­ing Alzheimer’s and oth­er CNS dis­or­ders. That’s a ton of pro­teins com­pared to most bi­o­log­ics, which are made of 1, but it amounts to just 3% of what’s in plas­ma. The Long Is­land Ice Tea of a lead drug is known as GRF-6019. The sci­ence is based on work from Stan­ford neu­ro­sci­en­tist Tony Wyss-Coray, which was spun out by for­mer Genen­tech sci­en­tist Karoly Nikolich.

Tony Wyss-Coray

So far, ev­i­dence for ef­fec­tive­ness re­mains scant. Last year, the com­pa­ny said that, in a 47-per­son Phase II study, pa­tients with mild to mod­er­ate Alzheimer’s main­tained their lev­el of cog­ni­tion for 6 months. But they still have yet to re­lease da­ta from that study and while this is cer­tain­ly a new ap­proach to the eva­sive dis­ease, many oth­er ther­a­pies have failed af­ter show­ing promise in ear­ly tri­als. Their Phase I study, pub­lished in JA­MA, showed lit­tle change in cog­ni­tive per­for­mance tests among 18 Alzheimer’s pa­tients, al­though it was on­ly pow­ered for safe­ty.

Alka­h­est is al­so test­ing GRF-6019 in se­vere Alzheimer’s pa­tients, an oft-over­looked pop­u­la­tion, and said re­cent­ly that it proved safe in a 26-per­son pi­lot study. They have stud­ies on­go­ing in Parkin­son’s, age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion, and pa­tients with end-stage re­nal dis­ease and cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment.

Out­side of plas­ma, the com­pa­ny is al­so de­vel­op­ing an oral drug aimed at an­oth­er an­ti-ag­ing tar­get: Eo­tax­in. It’s an im­munomod­u­la­to­ry pro­tein, they say, that in­creas­es with age. Alka­h­est is in Phase II stud­ies to see if block­ing it can curb Parkin­son’s and AMD.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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