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.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

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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