In­ovio ax­es staff, chops R&D pro­grams in chase for elu­sive com­mer­cial win — though there's still a lot on their plate

Ral­ly­ing around its late-stage HPV projects, In­ovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $INO is slash­ing 28% of its work­force — around 80 staffers — and ax­ing sev­er­al ear­ly-stage pro­grams to bring its burn rate down by 25%.

Joseph Kim In­ovio

The Ply­mouth Meet­ing, PA-based biotech in­sists that the sole mo­tive is to con­sol­i­date its scat­tered pipeline, cre­at­ing “a more ef­fi­cient or­ga­ni­za­tion with greater fi­nan­cial flex­i­bil­i­ty and a longer run­way,” ac­cord­ing to CEO Joseph Kim. While In­ovio end­ed the first quar­ter with $128.0 mil­lion in cash and cash equiv­a­lents, though, its stock has tum­bled 28% since the be­gin­ning of the year to $3. It’s fall­en an­oth­er 13% pre-mar­ket.

And even af­ter the re­struc­tur­ing In­ovio’s re­main­ing team of 200 will still be spread among a siz­able ar­ray of projects — re­flect­ing a “John­ny-on-the-spot” op­tics that the 40-year-old com­pa­ny has been chas­tised for.

The top pri­or­i­ty is lead as­set VGX-3100, a DNA-based im­munother­a­py sup­posed to pre­vent can­cer by treat­ing cer­vi­cal dys­pla­sia caused by HPV.

In­ovio had in­tend­ed to kick­start Phase III in 2016, but a clin­i­cal hold is­sued by FDA reg­u­la­tors pushed the time­line back by at least half a year. Three years lat­er, it has fi­nal­ly com­plet­ed en­roll­ment for the first tri­al and be­gun re­cruit­ing pa­tients for the next.

Next on the list is INO-3107 for re­cur­rent res­pi­ra­to­ry pa­pil­lo­mato­sis, a rare dis­ease al­so caused by HPV in­fec­tions. Hav­ing sat on the back­burn­er for a while, the drug will get some fresh clin­i­cal ac­tion with­in 12 months.

Then there’s ME­DI0457, the on­ly as­set that As­traZeneca is still in­ter­est­ed in af­ter walk­ing away from a part­ner­ship dat­ing back to 2015. The on­go­ing study, which the phar­ma gi­ant is steer­ing, stud­ies the drug in com­bi­na­tion with Imfinzi in head and neck can­cer. Phase II da­ta are ex­pect­ed by next Au­gust.

The last two pro­grams in fo­cus have noth­ing to do with HPV. Af­ter aban­don­ing a plan to ad­vance INO-5401 for blad­der can­cer, In­ovio now wants to see if it has a fu­ture in glioblas­toma mul­ti­forme — where they see a high­er un­met med­ical need. It al­so has its hands on pre­clin­i­cal DNA-en­cod­ed bi-spe­cif­ic T cell en­gagers, a tech­nol­o­gy it’s keen to move for­ward.

Of course, In­ovio still has all the oth­er part­ner-fund­ed pro­grams: Las­sa and MERS vac­cine pro­grams fund­ed by the Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness In­no­va­tions, Zi­ka project backed by the Gates Foun­da­tion; and a de­liv­ery de­vice sup­port­ed by the Med­ical CBRN De­fense Con­sor­tium.

Ear­li­er this year In­ovio had spun out its im­munother­a­py plat­form to a start­up dubbed Ge­neos Ther­a­peu­tics, bring­ing in San­té Ven­tures to lead a $10.5 mil­lion launch round.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.