Luigi Naldini, Pierluigi Paracchi, Carlo Russo. Genenta

Ital­ian gene ther­a­py play­er draws new in­vestor from Chi­na for its an­swer to CAR-T re­laps­es

So you’ve been treat­ed with one of the new-age can­cer ther­a­pies. What do you do if there’s a re­lapse and the tu­mors re­turns? 

Genen­ta Sci­ence launched four years ago out of Mi­lan in part to an­swer that ques­tion, and to­day they re­ceived $14.4 mil­lion in round three fund­ing that will pro­pel their unique gene ther­a­py through Phase I/II tri­als for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma and glioblas­toma. Backed now by mon­ey from the Chi­nese firm Qianzhan In­vest­ment Man­age­ment and Fidim, the for­mer own­er of the bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Rot­tapharm, the com­pa­ny is al­so ex­plor­ing ways of de­liv­er­ing gene ther­a­py to sol­id tu­mors that have been hard­er to reach. 

“The prob­lem Genen­ta faces is that you don’t need to be No­bel Prize brain to un­der­stand CAR-T,” CMO Car­lo Rus­so told End­points News, re­fer­ring to the pop­u­lar can­cer cell ther­a­py. “It is in­tu­itive­ly sim­ple. What we are try­ing to do is not.”

CAR-T treat­ments have been hailed in re­cent years for the break­throughs they’ve of­fered in hard-to-treat blood can­cers, but ini­tial en­thu­si­asm has been tem­pered by 1-year re­lapse rates as high as 40%.

The idea of the Genen­ta ther­a­py, called Tem­fer­on, is to pre­vent those re­laps­es by re­build­ing the pa­tient’s im­mune sys­tem with­in the tu­mor sites them­selves, called TEMS. The treat­ment in­volves in­ject­ing a lentivirus for a gene trans­fer in hematopoi­et­ic stem and prog­en­i­tor cells, trig­ger­ing in­ter­fer­on-αex­pres­sion in the tar­get­ed ar­eas. The pa­tient would then be able to fight off fu­ture re­laps­es.

This ther­a­py has ex­cit­ing po­ten­tial for long term care, Rus­so said, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly for tack­ling a fast-act­ing can­cer. He said he could en­vi­sion a fu­ture where front­line rem­e­dy such as CAR-T or chemother­a­py is used to wipe out tu­mors ear­ly and then Tem­fer­on is ad­min­is­tered for long term pre­ven­tion. 

“It’s like a vac­cine,” Rus­so says, “You’re ex­posed to an anti­gen so you will be pre­pared when you are nat­u­ral­ly ex­posed to the anti­gen.”

The mul­ti­ple myelo­ma and glioblas­toma tri­als have al­ready be­gun, Genen­ta CEO Pier­lui­gi Parac­chi told End­points, and the fund­ing will al­low them to ex­pand to 21 and 9 pa­tients in each. Parac­chi said they may al­so look in­to us­ing parts of the funds to open a clin­i­cal tri­al in the Unit­ed States.  

Genen­ta’s pre­clin­i­cal work, led by Lui­gi Nal­di­ni, ex­am­ined Tem­fer­on on an ar­ray of can­cers; mul­ti­ple myelo­ma was cho­sen for the first clin­i­cal tri­al in large part be­cause bone mar­row trans­plants are al­ready part of the dis­ease’s stan­dard of care, re­duc­ing the risk of the ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py. 

Like CAR-T, Tem­fer­on works by re­mov­ing bone mar­row cells, treat­ing them with a gene ther­a­py and then rein­ject­ing them in­to the pa­tient. But Genen­ta method us­es in­ter­fer­on, an old can­cer treat­ment that has been all but dis­con­tin­ued be­cause of its risks. 

“The re­ac­tion I get when I talk about in­ter­fer­on is ‘oh my god this is such an old, bor­ing drug,’” Rus­so said.

But be­cause the ther­a­py lim­its the in­ter­fer­on pro­teins to the mi­cro-en­vi­ron­ment around the tu­mor, it can be ef­fec­tive and low-risk, Rus­so said. 

Among oth­er ben­e­fits, the study on glioblas­toma will al­low re­searchers to see in the very near fu­ture if the treat­ment is hav­ing any ef­fect, as this form of brain can­cer is gen­er­al­ly fa­tal with­in 16 to 20 months.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

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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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.