Matthew Vander Heiden (MIT)

It's time: Af­ter 19 years, leg­endary Koch In­sti­tute di­rec­tor Tyler Jacks pass­es the torch to Matthew Van­der Hei­den

Tyler Jacks, the long-tenured di­rec­tor of MIT’s Koch In­sti­tute for In­te­gra­tive Can­cer Re­search, said months ago that he’d step away from the helm af­ter find­ing a suc­ces­sor. On Thurs­day, that day fi­nal­ly came.

Af­ter more than 19 years lead­ing the in­sti­tute, Jacks is hand­ing the reins to Matthew Van­der Hei­den, an MIT bi­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor and can­cer cell me­tab­o­lism re­searcher. The long­time di­rec­tor isn’t go­ing far: MIT Pres­i­dent L. Rafael Reif said in Oc­to­ber that Jacks will re­turn “full time to the ex­cite­ment of the lab.”

Tyler Jacks

In ad­di­tion to teach­ing, men­tor­ing and run­ning labs at the Koch, Jacks is now pres­i­dent at Break Through Can­cer, a foun­da­tion launched ear­li­er this year with $250 mil­lion from the William H. Good­win fam­i­ly. The foun­da­tion, on a mis­sion to unite re­searchers from lead­ing US can­cer cen­ters, has al­ready forged part­ner­ships with the Koch In­sti­tute, Dana-Far­ber, Johns Hop­kins’ Syd­ney Kim­mel Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter, Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter.

“Jacks is a renowned sci­en­tist whose per­son­al re­search has changed the pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of can­cer,” said Phillip Sharp, a for­mer di­rec­tor of MIT’s Cen­ter for Can­cer Re­search be­fore it was the Koch In­sti­tute.

The Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ate pi­o­neered the use of gene-tar­get­ing tech­nol­o­gy to con­struct mouse mod­els, which are used to­day in labs around the world. And be­cause the mod­els so close­ly re­sem­ble hu­man forms of can­cer, they’ve al­lowed re­searchers to track tu­mor pro­gres­sion and test new ways of de­tect­ing and treat­ing the dis­ease, MIT said.

Jacks over­saw the CCR’s trans­for­ma­tion in­to the Koch In­sti­tute in 2007. The cen­ter was orig­i­nal­ly found­ed by No­bel lau­re­ate Sal­vador Luria in 1974, short­ly af­ter the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clared a “war on can­cer.” Jacks was the fourth di­rec­tor of the CCR.

In 2015, he co-found­ed Drag­on­fly Ther­a­peu­tics with en­tre­pre­neur and film­mak­er Bill Haney and David Raulet, an ex­pert in nat­ur­al killer cell bi­ol­o­gy. Look­ing to build on cell ther­a­py 1.0, the team got to work on tri-spe­cif­ic NK cell en­gager ther­a­pies. Back in Ju­ly, the biotech struck the third in a se­ries of deals with Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, and an­nounced plans to add a fa­cil­i­ty in Copen­hagen.

Van­der Hei­den plans on steer­ing the Koch In­sti­tute to­ward the way of the fu­ture, with a fo­cus on ma­chine learn­ing and AI.

“With the MIT Schwarz­man Col­lege of Com­put­ing com­ing on­line, there’s tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ty in us­ing the rapid ad­vances in ma­chine learn­ing and com­put­er sci­ence for health care,” he said in a state­ment. “I think that’s some­thing MIT ab­solute­ly should be a leader on, es­pe­cial­ly as it ap­plies to can­cer.”

The Wis­con­sin na­tive earned his bach­e­lor’s, MD and PhD all from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, then pur­sued his post­doc at Har­vard Med­ical School. While there, he worked on re­search that paved the way for drugs that tar­get can­cer cells with a mu­ta­tion in the IDH gene — the first mod­ern FDA-ap­proved drugs to tar­get me­tab­o­lism, ac­cord­ing to MIT.

In 2010, he be­came one of the first new hires to the Koch In­sti­tute af­ter its trans­for­ma­tion from the CCR. The di­rec­tor will con­tin­ue per­son­al re­search on cell me­tab­o­lism and can­cer, and his work treat­ing prostate can­cer pa­tients at Dana-Far­ber.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Chris Gibson (Photo By Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion founders gin for­tunes as IPO back­ers show­er $436M on one of the biggest boasts in AI -- based on some very small deals

In the AI drug development world, boasting often comes with the territory. Yet few can rival Recursion when it comes to claiming the lead role in what company execs like to call the industrialization of drug development, with promises of continued exponential growth in the number of drugs it has in the pipeline.

On Friday, the Salt Lake City-based biotech translated its unicorn-sized boasts into a killer IPO, pricing more than 24 million shares at the high end of its range and bringing in $436 million — with a large chunk of that promised by some deep-pocket backers.

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Covid-19 vac­cine halt drags on, an FDA ap­point­ment at long last, the great CRO con­sol­i­da­tion, 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.

Conference season is upon us, and while we’d much prefer to be wandering down the hallways and presentation rooms in person, the team is ready to cover the most consequential data coming out of these scientific meetings. Get in touch early if you have news to share.

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Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Alan List, new Precision BioSciences CMO, in 2019 (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Moffitt Cancer Center)

Eli Lil­ly-part­nered biotech taps star in­ves­ti­ga­tor Alan List as CMO — a year af­ter he re­signed from Mof­fitt over Chi­na scan­dal

After laying low for more than a year following a scandal that led to his ouster, former Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Alan List has emerged in the frontlines of biotech.

An expert in hematology and oncology drug development known as a lead investigator for Celgene’s blockbuster Revlimid, List is swapping “clinical trials consultant” for the chief medical officer title at Precision BioSciences — a Eli Lilly-partnered biotech boasting a new gene editing approach to cell and gene correction therapies.