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.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Philip Mor­ris gets share­hold­er back­ing in Vec­tura saga; Tarve­da strikes ex­clu­sive li­cens­ing agree­ment with Sci­Clone

Tobacco giant Philip Morris now has crossed the 50% threshold it needs for shareholder backing for its controversial, $1.5 billion takeover of asthma inhaler maker Vectura.

Investors have accepted a $2.28-per-share offer from the company behind Marlboro cigarettes, according to Sky News — and those investors represent nearly 75% of the company’s shares.

Acquiring the British inhaler maker is only a part of Philip Morris’ long term plan to develop “smoke-free” products, with a desire to ultimately become a “broader healthcare and wellness” company.

Skin tu­mors in mice force Pro­tag­o­nist to halt lead pro­gram, crush­ing stock

Protagonist Therapeutics just can’t catch a break.

Six months after the Newark, CA-based biotech unveiled grand plans to launch its lead candidate for blood disorders into a Phase III trial, the FDA has slapped the program with a clinical hold. The halt — which applies to all trials involving the candidate, rusfertide — comes after skin tumors were discovered in mice treated with the drug, according to Protagonist.

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