GSK lines up a shot at a block­buster mar­ket as new CEO pre­pares to tack­le Mer­ck ri­val head on

New Glax­o­SmithK­line CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley is one big step clos­er to tak­ing a shot at a block­buster mar­ket­ing pro­gram to­day af­ter an FDA pan­el re­view end­ed with a unan­i­mous thumbs up for their new shin­gles vac­cine.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley

GSK earned some glow­ing praise on Wednes­day as the ad­vi­so­ry group looked at a vac­cine that just a few months ago proved it could gen­er­ate a pro­tec­tive re­sponse in pa­tients al­ready jabbed with Mer­ck’s Zostavax, a $759 mil­lion earn­er last year that is the on­ly prod­uct for this in­di­ca­tion now on the mar­ket. That’s sig­nif­i­cant as the ef­fect of Zostavax is al­so known to wane over time.

GSK’s vac­cine al­so post­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter re­sponse rates than the Mer­ck ri­val demon­strat­ed ahead of its ap­proval.

The near-term prospects for Shin­grix un­der­scores the con­tin­ued strength of GSK’s vac­cine and HIV busi­ness, where re­searchers have al­so been mak­ing im­pres­sive progress on prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. Where GSK has been woe­ful­ly lack­ing is on the phar­ma R&D side of the busi­ness. Walm­s­ley has ac­knowl­edged that the phar­ma pipeline lacks piz­zazz — a painful­ly ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion for the past 4 years now.

Em­manuel Hanon

So the new CEO has swept the deck, dump­ing an unim­pres­sive Tanzeum while post­ing mixed da­ta on Nu­cala as they look to ex­pand the fran­chise val­ue there while ri­vals clus­ter around key in­di­ca­tions. GSK al­so dropped sirukum­ab just be­fore its part­ners at J&J were snubbed by ex­perts on an­oth­er FDA pan­el.

Big changes may be com­ing soon at GSK, in a fol­lowup to its Adap­ti­m­mune pact. But first they have to get a for­mal OK on Shin­grix and start to prove just how ef­fec­tive GSK’s com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions can be when hand­ed a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.

GSK’s vac­cine R&D chief Em­manuel Hanon not­ed:

Shin­gles is a painful and po­ten­tial­ly se­ri­ous con­di­tion. The risk of de­vel­op­ing shin­gles in­creas­es with age and it is es­ti­mat­ed that up to one in three peo­ple in the Unit­ed States will de­vel­op shin­gles. To­day’s vote brings us one step clos­er to ap­proval of Shin­grix, which is specif­i­cal­ly de­signed to over­come age-re­lat­ed weak­en­ing of the im­mune sys­tem.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.