Cameron Durrant, Humanigen CEO (Columbia University Technology Ventures via YouTube)

Hu­mani­gen mo­men­tum barges on as Covid-19 can­di­date is se­lect­ed for NI­AID tri­al

One of “Phar­ma Bro” Mar­tin Shkre­li’s for­mer biotechs came back from the dead dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic thanks to its drug can­di­date tar­get­ing cy­tokine storms. Now, that com­pa­ny has scored it­self a place in a NI­AID-spon­sored tri­al.

Hu­mani­gen $HGEN, trad­ing for 46 cents per share as re­cent­ly as mid-March, an­nounced Mon­day af­ter­noon that its lenzilum­ab will be test­ed in com­bi­na­tion with remde­sivir in NI­AID’s Big Ef­fect Tri­al, ef­fec­tive­ly cat­e­go­riz­ing it as a high-pri­or­i­ty Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tic can­di­date. The drug com­bo will be test­ed against remde­sivir, a broad-spec­trum an­tivi­ral that has shown in ear­ly stud­ies to treat some symp­toms of Covid-19, and a place­bo.

Need­less to say, Hu­mani­gen CEO Cameron Dur­rant is quite ex­cit­ed by the news.

“This is ar­guably the world’s fore­most re­search for pub­lic health, gov­ern­ment-sup­port­ed or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Dur­rant told End­points News. “And they se­lect­ed lenzilum­ab to be a par­tic­i­pant in this pro­gram. We think that that’s ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly val­i­dat­ing.”

Dur­rant couldn’t com­ment on the time­line for the tri­al, cit­ing the NIH’s spon­sor­ship. NI­AID couldn’t be im­me­di­ate­ly reached for re­quests to com­ment.

Be­fore the pan­dem­ic, Hu­mani­gen was last in the news about three years ago when it was de­vel­op­ing a drug to treat Cha­gas dis­ease, but got beat­en to the punch by a non­prof­it group. What had been a promis­ing pro­gram be­came a dud and sent in­vestors flee­ing.

But since mid-March, when com­pa­nies around the world were look­ing at ex­ist­ing drugs to treat Covid-19, lenzilum­ab has been in the spot­light with its stock price up to near­ly $5 per share — an al­most 1,000 per­cent in­crease — in four months. Hu­mani­gen is cur­rent­ly en­gag­ing in its own Phase III tri­al, and Dur­rant in­sists this won’t be an­oth­er mishap like three years ago.

Though a fail­ure on Covid-19 here would like­ly pop this bal­loon in­stant­ly, the Cha­gas can­di­date “was a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent pro­gram and com­plete­ly in the rearview mir­ror. So, of course, we’re op­ti­mistic.”

Da­ta for lenzilum­ab in Covid-19 treat­ment are fair­ly lim­it­ed thus far; a non-con­trolled preprint of 12 pa­tients with coro­n­avirus-re­lat­ed se­vere pneu­mo­nia was re­leased last month. In that study, 11 of those pa­tients saw clin­i­cal im­prove­ments with an av­er­age time to dis­charge of five days, and they did not ex­hib­it any se­ri­ous ad­verse ef­fects.

The Cal­i­for­nia-based biotech’s main fo­cus is cy­tokine storm re­search and it has been study­ing the ef­fi­ca­cy of lenzilum­ab, a GM-CSF mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body, in treat­ing over­ac­tive im­mune re­spons­es seen in graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease and CAR-T can­cer ther­a­pies. This mech­a­nism has been a brighter spot in vac­cine re­search than the com­pet­ing Re­gen­eron-backed IL-6 treat­ment, which suf­fered a set­back in Phase II tri­als in late April.

Be­cause Covid-19 ex­hibits a sim­i­lar pathol­o­gy to GvHD and CAR-T re­spons­es, Dur­rant said lenzilum­ab treat­ments could be ap­plied to those in­fect­ed by the coro­n­avirus.

Back in 2015, Shkre­li and an in­vest­ment group bought a ma­jor­i­ty stake in the com­pa­ny, then known as Kalo­Bios. When Shkre­li was ar­rest­ed for se­cu­ri­ties fraud, Kalo­Bios fired him, de­clared bank­rupt­cy and re-emerged as Hu­mani­gen in 2016.

On June 2, Hu­mani­gen scored $71.8 mil­lion in pri­vate eq­ui­ty to help fund its Phase III lenzilum­ab tri­als and scale the drug should it be ap­proved.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Lund­beck sounds taps on an­oth­er CNS drug, re­treat­ing from a mine field still oc­cu­pied by a Mer­ck team

Lundbeck has snipped another clinical-stage branch of its CNS research, dumping a schizophrenia program after determining that their therapy would have no positive influence on the disease.

Designed originally as a 240-patient study, researchers set out in early 2019 to see if a homegrown drug dubbed Lu AF11167 could make it through a proof-of-concept study. The drug is a PDE10Ai inhibitor, targeting an enzyme which it said at the time offered a new pathway to retuning the body’s neurotransmitter dopamine. The big idea was that by hitting their target, the drug would modulate “dopamine D1 and D2 receptor-mediated intraneuronal signaling without binding to these receptors,” influencing negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a prospec­tive moth­er­lode of Covid-19 vac­cine rev­enue — will a back­lash fol­low?

Moderna shows no sign of slowing down, or turning charitable when it comes to pricing supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine.

One of the leaders in the Phase III race to get a Covid-19 vaccine across the finish line in record time, Moderna says it’s on track to complete enrollment in one of the most avidly watched studies in the world next month. And the biotech has already banked some $400 million in deposits for vaccine supply as it works through negotiations with countries around the world — as CEO Stéphane Bancel sets out to hire a commercial team.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

OWS' Mon­cef Slaoui lam­basts ‘in­sult­ing’ me­dia cov­er­age: 'How are you help­ing in this pan­dem­ic?'

Ten weeks into his job as the chief advisor of Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui has found a new hurdle to the challenge of bringing a Covid-19 vaccine unprecedented speed: the media.

In an official podcast by the Department of Health and Human Services, Slaoui — a veteran of GlaxoSmithKline who came out of his retirement to take on the role, relinquishing several board directorships and selling shares in the process — counted himself naive in assuming that the press was aiming to inform.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 86,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

RA, No­var­tis back Gen­tiBio's seed round, plans to launch de­vel­op­ment of En­gTreg ther­a­pies

Boston, MA-based startup GentiBio landed a $20 million seed fund from three investors to dive into engineered regulatory T cell (EngTreg) development.

Marquee investors OrbiMed, Novartis Venture Fund and RA Capital Management have backed GentiBio’s mission to develop EngTregs for the treatment of autoimmune, alloimmune, autoinflammatory, and allergic diseases. Unlike other companies studying treatments using a patient’s own Tregs, GentiBio plans to make use of CD4+ immune cells, found in the blood.