In a blow to sci­ence, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion aborts fed­er­al fund­ing for fe­tal tis­sue re­search

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s os­si­fied stance on re­pro­duc­tive rights is now set to in­ter­rupt sci­en­tif­ic re­search. On Wednes­day, med­ical re­search fund­ing for NIH sci­en­tists us­ing fe­tal tis­sue was abort­ed, along with a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tract with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia that in­volves re­search us­ing fe­tal tis­sue de­rived from elec­tive abor­tions to test HIV ther­a­pies.

Fe­tal tis­sue, har­vest­ed from dead fe­tus­es — from in­duced or nat­ur­al abor­tions — is used as trans­plan­ta­tion ma­te­r­i­al or to cre­ate cell lines. These cell lines can be uti­lized to test a drug’s abil­i­ty to dam­age ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al or to test the ef­fects of spe­cif­ic vi­ral (or oth­er types) of in­fec­tion. Since fe­tal cells mul­ti­ply — a small num­ber de­rived from a dead fe­tus can be eas­i­ly ex­pand­ed and used ei­ther as a source of more cell lines or for trans­plants.

Sci­en­tists have long un­der­scored the sig­nif­i­cance of us­ing fe­tal tis­sue for re­search. It has aid­ed the de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines for dis­eases that once rav­aged com­mu­ni­ties glob­al­ly — in­clud­ing Po­lio, rubel­la, measles, chick­en­pox and ra­bies. On­go­ing re­search has al­so har­nessed fe­tal tis­sue for a pletho­ra of ther­a­peu­tic fields, such as di­a­betes, cer­tain blood dis­or­ders, ra­di­a­tion poi­son­ing, and var­i­ous neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders.

In a de­cid­ed win for an­ti-abor­tion ac­tivists that form a core of Pres­i­dent Trump’s vot­er base — the HHS on Wednes­day in its state­ment an­nounc­ing the fed­er­al re­search ban not­ed that “(p)ro­mot­ing the dig­ni­ty of hu­man life from con­cep­tion to nat­ur­al death is one of the very top pri­or­i­ties of Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The move re­flects the stance of the White House, in par­tic­u­lar, vice pres­i­dent Mike Pence, on abor­tion and women’s rights: it fol­lows a raft of re­cent de­ci­sions de­signed to thwart women from mak­ing de­ci­sions about their own bod­ies — from black­balling Planned Par­ent­hood and sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions to en­hanc­ing pro­tec­tions for health­care providers that refuse to en­dorse abor­tion on moral/re­li­gious grounds. It is al­so re­flec­tive of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­ti­tude of di­min­ish­ing — if not out­right ig­nor­ing — sci­en­tif­ic re­search in pol­i­cy.

Fran­cis Collins NIH

Af­ter the HHS — un­der the aus­pices of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — be­gan to scru­ti­nize fed­er­al­ly-fund­ed fe­tal tis­sue re­search last year, NIH di­rec­tor Fran­cis Collins cham­pi­oned the use of the ma­te­r­i­al, as­sert­ing it was “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and eth­i­cal­ly jus­ti­fied” at a meet­ing of an agency ad­vi­so­ry pan­el.

Sci­en­tists came out in droves to reg­is­ter their frus­tra­tion with the HHS an­nounce­ment.

“These new re­stric­tions have no sci­en­tif­ic or eth­i­cal ba­sis and will roll back decades of con­sen­sus in the U.S., de­lay­ing the de­vel­op­ment of new med­ical treat­ments…With these new ar­bi­trary re­stric­tions on re­search, the Unit­ed States is ced­ing its role as the glob­al leader in the de­vel­op­ment of cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies and re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. Amer­i­cans will now wait for life-sav­ing ther­a­pies to be de­vel­oped in Eu­rope, Asia, and oth­er parts of the world,” said Doug Melton, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tion­al So­ci­ety for Stem Cell Re­search (ISS­CR), a large or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing stem cell re­searchers across the world.

De­mo­c­rat law­mak­ers were al­so aghast.

Frank Pal­lone, Jr Twit­ter

“(T)he Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion once again places ide­ol­o­gy over sci­ence and facts…It’s im­por­tant that re­searchers are not ham­strung by ar­bi­trary lim­its on where the sci­ence can take them. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion should be spend­ing its time sup­port­ing and in­vest­ing in life­sav­ing med­ical re­search rather than un­der­min­ing sci­en­tif­ic in­quiry for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons,” said En­er­gy and Com­merce Chair­man Frank Pal­lone, Jr in a state­ment.

Last De­cem­ber, the NIH was giv­en $20 mil­lion for re­search to de­vel­op, demon­strate, and val­i­date ex­per­i­men­tal mod­els that do not re­ly on hu­man fe­tal tis­sue from elec­tive abor­tions.


Im­age: NIH via Flickr.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.

Bris­tol-My­ers star Op­di­vo fails sur­vival test in a matchup with Nex­avar aimed at shak­ing up the big HCC mar­ket

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has suf­fered an­oth­er painful set­back in its years-long quest to ex­pand the reach of Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant this morn­ing not­ed that their Check­mate-459 study com­par­ing Op­di­vo with Bay­er’s Nex­avar in front­line cas­es of he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma — the most com­mon form of liv­er can­cer — failed to hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on over­all sur­vival.

This was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in Bris­tol-My­ers’ tal­ly of PD-1 cat­a­lysts this year. Nex­avar (so­rafenib) has been the stan­dard of care in front­line HCC for the past decade, though Op­di­vo has been mak­ing head­way in sec­ond-line HCC cas­es, where it’s go­ing toe-to-toe with Bay­er’s Sti­var­ga (re­go­rafenib) af­ter re­cent ap­provals shook up the mar­ket.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes weeks af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.