Ham­mered by crit­ics, NewLink strikes back with pos­i­tive PhII in­dox­i­mod da­ta — and shares rock­et up

Few biotechs have in­spired the kind of love-hate re­la­tion­ship that NewLink Ge­net­ics $NLNK seems to pro­voke among the bulls and bears in the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty fol­low­ing its IDO work with pas­sion­ate self-in­ter­est.

Ear­li­er this year, the sen­ti­ment ran dis­tinct­ly along the bear/hate ar­gu­ment, born out by some dis­ap­point­ing da­ta and Genen­tech’s de­ci­sion to punt their part­nered IDO1 ther­a­py. It al­so didn’t help that their can­cer vac­cine flopped bad­ly in 2016.

To­day, though, was most­ly about good lov­ing, as NewLink shares shot up 75% by the close.

Charles Link, NewLink

What caused this sud­den eu­pho­ria?

Look­ing to prove that its drug in­dox­i­mod can amp up the ef­fi­ca­cy of Mer­ck’s check­point ther­a­py Keytru­da in fight­ing melanoma, re­searchers rolled out a new set of da­ta that tout­ed an in­crease in the com­plete re­sponse rate from 12% to 20%, an over­all re­sponse rate of 61% and a dis­ease con­trol rate of 80%. The me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate was record­ed at 12.9 months.

It’s all da­ta from a small Phase II da­ta which the short crowd loves to crit­i­cize as of­ten as they can, cit­ing var­i­ous de­sign flaws and cher­ry pick­ing. It’s al­so a long way from the piv­otal melanoma study, which will re­cruit 600 pa­tients for some­time in 2018, us­ing both Keytru­da and Op­di­vo.

“Our team is ex­cit­ed to move for­ward with this piv­otal tri­al,” said Eu­gene Kennedy, the VP of med­ical af­fairs at NewLink. “We be­lieve that al­low­ing physi­cians the choice of ei­ther pem­brolizum­ab or nivolum­ab ac­cu­rate­ly re­flects cur­rent clin­i­cal care and should aid in en­rolling the tri­al by the end of 2018.”

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this is not an IDO1 drug. NewLink on­ly knows that it works along the IDO path­way, sep­a­rate from the en­zy­mat­ic spe­cif­ic group, which in­cludes In­cyte’s lead­ing epaca­do­stat.

This ar­gu­ment isn’t near­ly over. The on­ly thing that will fi­nal­ly stop it will be de­fin­i­tive piv­otal re­sults.

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.