IDO-de­rived can­cer vac­cine scores in com­bo tri­al with Keytru­da; Vir teams up with WuXi on coro­n­avirus an­ti­bod­ies

→ Copen­hagen-based IO Biotech said that its can­cer vac­cine has passed the high bar set for its in­ter­im fu­til­i­ty analy­sis in Phase II, show­ing “a sub­stan­tial­ly high­er” over­all re­sponse rate among non-small cell lung can­cer pa­tients when com­bined to Keytru­da than the PD-1 alone —which ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny in­duced his­tor­i­cal ORR of 39%.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors will car­ry on eval­u­at­ing IO-102 plus Keytru­da, with fi­nal da­ta ex­pect­ed by the end of the year. The can­di­date is an IDO-de­rived pep­tide se­quence de­signed to stir up T cell ac­tion against IDO — the en­zyme tar­get for an ill-fat­ed class of small mol­e­cule drugs. “In that sense you have flags on the sur­face of im­mune sup­pres­sive cells and [tu­mor cells] that our T cells can rec­og­nize and there­by ac­tu­al­ly get rid of those IDO pos­i­tive cells, hence a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent MOA than IDO SMI,” CEO Mai-Britt Zoc­ca told End­points News.

IO Biotech is fund­ing the study while part­ner Mer­ck gets to share the re­sults. A cock­tail of IO102 and IO103 — which di­rects T cells against PD-L1 — is be­ing test­ed in com­bi­na­tion with Op­di­vo for melanoma pa­tients.

→ A month af­ter join­ing the hunt for an­ti­bod­ies that could treat Covid-19, Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy is en­list­ing WuXi Bi­o­log­ics to do the cell-line de­vel­op­ment, process and for­mu­la­tion de­vel­op­ment as well as ini­tial man­u­fac­tur­ing. The San Fran­cis­co-based start­up said it’s iden­ti­fied a num­ber of mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies that bind to SARS-CoV-2, iso­lat­ed from in­di­vid­u­als who had sur­vived SARS. A deal with WuXi — which gives the pow­er­ful CRO rights to com­mer­cial­ize in Chi­na — po­si­tions them for quick ad­vance­ment, CEO George Scan­gos said.

As­traZeneca has di­vest­ed an­oth­er gas­troin­testi­nal drug, col­lect­ing $52.5 mil­lion up­front from Red­Hill Bio­phar­ma for par­tial rights to Movan­tik. The drug, which was orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped by Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics to treat opi­oid-in­duced con­sti­pa­tion, gen­er­at­ed US sales of $96 mil­lion last year (Dai­ichi Sankyo shares some of the prof­its). As­traZeneca will con­tin­ue to sup­ply the drug for a while.

→ Parisian biotech Sci­pio bio­science, which helps re­search and clin­i­cal labs with sin­gle-cell se­quenc­ing, has se­cured €6 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing. The mon­ey will fu­el the fi­nal de­vel­op­ment of its sin­gle-cell RNA-se­quenc­ing kit, as well as mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ef­forts to pre­pare for com­mer­cial launch in 2022.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

News brief­ing: Ve­rastem CMO ex­its two weeks af­ter join­ing com­pa­ny; Ther­mo Fish­er inks $550M M&A deal

Two weeks after joining Verastem Oncology as chief medical officer, Frank Neumann is leaving the company for another job.

Neumann had joined Verastem after leaving bluebird bio, which surprisingly split into two companies last week, one in oncology and one in rare diseases. It’s not yet clear to where Neumann is headed next, but he noted in a statement that Verastem’s data and strategy were “truly exciting.”

Biohaven CEO Vlad Coric (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

Pssst: That big Bio­haven Alzheimer's study? It was a bust. Even the sub­group analy­sis ex­ecs tout­ed was a flop

You know it’s bad when a biopharma player plucks out a subgroup analysis for a positive take — even though it was way off the statistical mark for success, like everything else.

So it was for Biohaven $BHVN on MLK Monday, as the biotech reported on the holiday that their Phase II/III Alzheimer’s study for troriluzole flunked both co-primary endpoints as well as a key biomarker analysis.

The drug — a revised version of the ALS drug riluzole designed to regulate glutamate — did not “statistically differentiate” from placebo on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale 11 (ADAS-cog) and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB).  The “hippocampal volume” assessment by MRI also failed to distinguish itself from placebo for all patients fitting the mild-to-moderate disease profile they had established for the study.

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CEO Stephen Yoder (Pieris)

Pieris fi­nal­ly vaults FDA hold on next-gen sol­id tu­mor hunter, clear­ing the path for mid-stage tri­al

Finally freed from the restraints of a partial FDA clinical hold on its lead HER2-positive solid tumor candidate, Pieris Pharmaceuticals is now racing toward Phase II.

The FDA slapped a partial hold on Pieris’ PRS-343 back in July, restricting the biotech from enrolling new patients in a Phase I trial. While Pieris was allowed to continue dosing patients who were already enrolled, the agency requested they conduct an additional “in-use and compatibility study” before recruiting any more.

FDA hits the brakes on His­to­gen's knee car­ti­lage ther­a­py, ask­ing for more in­fo on man­u­fac­tur­ing process

A month after filing the IND application for its human extracellular matrix designed to regenerate knee cartilage, Histogen has hit a roadblock.

The FDA on Tuesday verbally notified the San Diego-based biotech that it was placing a clinical hold on the planned Phase I/II clinical trial of HST-003 due to pending CMC information and additional questions needed to complete their review.

Histogen had planned to test the safety and efficacy of implanting hECM within microfracture interstices and related cartilage defects to regenerate that cartilage in conjunction with a microfracture procedure. The company said in a press release that it expects to receive written notice of the clinical hold from the FDA by Feb 12.

Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.

Andrew Allen, Gritstone CEO (Gritstone via website)

Grit­stone con­tin­ues Covid-19 push with deal to de­vel­op 'self-am­pli­fy­ing RNA' vac­cines, as shares con­tin­ue bal­loon­ing

Gritstone Oncology has had a big week, and it’s only Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the biotech revealed plans to start clinical testing of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine — in tandem with NIAID — that can also target other coronaviruses, with the goal of preventing future pandemics should SARS-CoV-2 prove difficult to cure with current vaccines. Then, on Wednesday morning, Gritstone licensed lipid nanoparticle technology from Genevant Sciences to develop what it’s calling “self-amplifying RNA vaccines” against Covid-19.

Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (GSK via YouTube)

Glax­o­SmithK­line's $4B bis­pe­cif­ic can­cer drug al­liance with Mer­ck KGaA hit by big set­back with a PhI­II fail­ure on NSCLC

Close to 2 years ago, GSK’s R&D team eagerly agreed to pay up to $4 billion-plus to ally itself with Merck KGaA on a mid-stage bispecific called bintrafusp alfa, which intrigued them with the combination of a TGF-β trap with the anti-PD-L1 mechanism in one fusion protein.

But today the German pharma company says that their lead study on lung cancer was a bust, as independent monitors said there was no reason to believe that the experimental drug — targeting PD-L1/TGF-Beta — could beat Keytruda.

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Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: BioN­Tech of­fers da­ta show­ing Pfiz­er-part­nered vac­cine pro­tects against vari­ant; No­vavax at­trib­ut­es re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for PhI­II de­lay to OWS

Ugur Sahin and his team at BioNTech have proffered more evidence that their Pfizer-partnered Covid-19 vaccine can protect people from a much-feared variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Colloquially known as the UK variant, the B.1.1.7 lineage triggered alarms because it appeared more transmissible. Among a series of mutations on its spike protein — the key antigen that all frontrunners in the vaccine race targeted — N501Y was of particular concern because it’s located on the receptor-binding site.

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