Jim Wilson, Tachi Yamada, Stephen Squinto

How much does it cost to boot­strap a gene ther­a­py start­up? Not too much if you're Jim Wil­son, per Pas­sage Bio's $125M IPO fil­ing

Days ago when Deer­field part­ner Bruce Gold­smith jumped to helm Pas­sage Bio, he cit­ed a few rea­sons why it’s an “ex­treme­ly ex­cit­ing time” to be join­ing the gene ther­a­py play­er: IND fil­ings for three lead pro­grams, a da­ta-rich 2021 and an ex­pand­ing pipeline of ex­per­i­men­tal drugs for rare, mono­genic CNS dis­eases.

Bruce Gold­smith

It turns out there’s one more rea­son he held back: The Philadel­phia-based start­up was prep­ping an IPO.

Pas­sage Bio has pen­ciled in $125 mil­lion for its pub­lic de­but on the Nas­daq, with the ma­jor­i­ty of the pro­ceeds go­ing to the three AAV-based prod­uct can­di­dates slat­ed to en­ter the clin­ic in 2020.

Here’s the break­down on the tech be­hind each of them — of­fer­ing a glimpse of the ar­se­nal of de­liv­ery tools co-founder Jim Wil­son has as­sem­bled over the decades:

  1. PBGM01 uti­lizes a next-gen­er­a­tion AAVhu68 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain and pe­riph­er­al tis­sues a func­tion­al GLB1 gene en­cod­ing lyso­so­mal be­ta-galac­tosi­dase, or b-gal, for in­fan­tile GM1 gan­gliosi­do­sis
  2. PBFT02 uti­lizes an AAV1 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain a func­tion­al GRN gene en­cod­ing pro­gran­ulin, or PGRN, for FTD caused by pro­gran­ulin de­fi­cien­cy, or FTD-GRN
  3. PBKR03 uti­lizes a next-gen­er­a­tion AAVhu68 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain and pe­riph­er­al tis­sues a func­tion­al gene en­cod­ing the hy­drolyt­ic en­zyme galac­to­syl­ce­rami­dase, or GALC, for in­fan­tile Krabbe dis­ease

There are some com­peti­tors work­ing on each of the dis­eases they are tack­ling, in­clud­ing Ax­o­vant and Lyso­gene for GM1 as well as Alec­tor and Pre­vail for FTD, but Pas­sage Bio was con­fi­dent about be­ing an in­te­grat­ed play­er ca­pa­ble of tack­ling mul­ti­ple “cross-cor­rec­tion­al ther­a­pies” in the CNS.

Wil­son, a well-re­spect­ed pi­o­neer in the gene ther­a­py field, had in­tend­ed for this to be his lega­cy com­pa­ny, Or­biMed part­ner Stephen Squin­to pre­vi­ous­ly told End­points News. Thanks to Wil­son’s con­nec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, Pas­sage se­cured a li­cens­ing deal with the uni­ver­si­ty for an up­front of just $2.5 mil­lion in cash and 3,720,000 shares in stock (then val­ued at $0.9 mil­lion) — plus a promise to fund cer­tain pre­clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, the S-1 re­vealed.

The pact cov­ered rights to 12 ther­a­pies in to­tal, and should Pas­sage ex­er­cise those op­tions by the 2022 ex­piry date, up­front fees would be some­where be­tween $0.8 mil­lion to $1 mil­lion. They have al­ready made the call on six; Penn is el­i­gi­ble for up to $16.5 mil­lion in de­vel­op­ment mile­stones and $55 mil­lion in sales mile­stones for each.

That, plus the $10 mil­lion up­front Pas­sage paid Catal­ent’s Paragon sub­sidiary for man­u­fac­tur­ing work, amount­ed to the bulk of the biotech’s ex­pense. While it’s bagged two hefty megarounds, Pas­sage has on­ly burned through $58.7 mil­lion so far.

The syn­di­cate stayed ba­si­cal­ly the same through­out Se­ries A and B, fea­tur­ing Fra­zier Life Sci­ences (13.9%, rep­re­sent­ed by Wil­son’s long­time men­tor Tachi Ya­ma­da on the board), Or­biMed (19.6%), Ver­sant Ven­tures (14.8%) Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures (7.6%), New Leaf Ven­tures (7.0%), Vi­vo Cap­i­tal (7.0%) and Ac­cess In­dus­tries’ AI Pas­sage (6.5%). Wil­son re­tained 7.0% for him­self.

With his rare dis­ease ex­pe­ri­ence gleaned from years at Alex­ion, Squin­to ini­tial­ly took up the CEO role be­fore pass­ing the reins to Gold­smith. His com­pen­sa­tion pack­age for the past year to­taled $2.2 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion, and he con­tin­ues to be part of the team as in­ter­im head of R&D.

Chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Alex Fo­topou­los and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Gary Ro­mano re­ceived $2.25 mil­lion and $2.02 mil­lion, re­spec­tive­ly.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA have vowed not to let politics get in the way of science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped health agencies under his purview — including the FDA — of their rulemaking ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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#ES­MO20: Out to beat Tagris­so, J&J touts 100% ORR for EGFR bis­pe­cif­ic/TKI com­bo — fu­el­ing a quick leap to PhI­II

J&J’s one-two punch on EGFR-mutant non-small cell lung cancer has turned up some promising — although decidedly early — results, fueling the idea that there’s yet room to one up on third-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Twenty out of 20 advanced NSCLC patients had a response after taking a combination of an in-house TKI dubbed lazertinib and amivantamab, a bispecific antibody targeting both EGFR and cMET engineered on partner Genmab’s platform, J&J reported at ESMO. All were treatment-naïve, and none has seen their cancer progress at a median follow-up of seven months.

#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca aims to spur PRO­found shift in prostate can­cer treat­ment with Lyn­parza OS da­ta

AstraZeneca has unveiled the final, mature overall survival data that cemented Lynparza’s first approval in prostate cancer approval — touting its lead against rivals with the only PARP inhibitor to have demonstrated such benefit.

But getting the Merck-partnered drug to the right patients remains a challenge, something the companies are hoping to change with the new data cut.

The OS numbers on the subgroup with BRCA1/2 or ATM-mutated metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer are similar to the first look on offer when the FDA expanded the label in May: Lynparza reduced the risk of death by 31% versus Xtandi and Zytiga. Patients on Lynparza lived a median of 19.1 months, compared to 14.7 months for the anti-androgen therapies (p = 0.0175).

#ES­MO20: It’s not just Keytru­da any­more — Mer­ck spot­lights 3 top ear­ly-stage can­cer drugs

Any $12 billion megablockbuster in the portfolio tends to overshadow everything else in the pipeline. Which is something Merck can tell you a little bit about.

Keytruda not only dominates the PD-(L)1 field, it looms over everything Merck does, to the point some analysts wonder if Merck is a one-trick pony.

There’s no shortage of Keytruda data on display at ESMO this weekend, but now the focus is shifting to the future role of new drugs and combos in maintaining that lead position for years to come. And the pharma giant has a special focus for 3 early-stage efforts where Roger Perlmutter’s oncology team is placing some big bets.

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Exelixis CEO Michael Morrissey (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Look out Mer­ck. Bris­tol My­ers and Ex­elix­is stake out their com­bo’s claim to best-in-class sta­tus for front­line kid­ney can­cer

Now that the PD-(L)1 checkpoints are deeply entrenched in the oncology market, it’s time to welcome a wave of combination therapies — beyond chemo — looking to extend their benefit to larger numbers of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY} and Exelixis {EXEL} are close to the front of that line.

Today at ESMO the collaborators pulled the curtain back on some stellar data for their combination of Opdivo (the PD-1) and Cabometyx (the TKI), marking a significant advance for the blockbuster Bristol Myers franchise while offering a big leg up for the team at Exelixis.

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Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore the elec­tion — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly — and that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.