Judith Shizuru (Stanford Department of Medicine via YouTube)

Jasper Ther­a­peu­tics launch­es out of Stan­ford with new ap­proach to stem cell treat­ment

The first girl in the tri­al came in with chron­ic di­ar­rhea and the im­mune sys­tem of an un­treat­ed HIV pa­tient. Born with a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease that im­ped­ed her abil­i­ty to make B and T cells, she had once been giv­en a stem cell trans­plant but it didn’t take.  Back in the hos­pi­tal, she was in­ject­ed with a new ex­per­i­men­tal an­ti­body and then giv­en a new stem cell trans­plant. Soon, she gained weight. The di­ar­rhea stopped.

“She has nor­mal T cells now,” Ju­dith Shizu­ru, the Stan­ford sci­en­tist who pi­o­neered the an­ti­body, told End­points News. “She’s in school.”

It’s the kind of med­ical sto­ry to launch a biotech around. To­day, Shizu­ru’s com­pa­ny Jasper Ther­a­peu­tics is emerg­ing out of stealth-mode with $35 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing led by Abing­worth and Qim­ing, a mol­e­cule from Am­gen, and a Phase I tri­al set for its first read­out on Mon­day at ASH.

Jasper is broad­ly aimed at mak­ing stem cell trans­plants safer, more ac­ces­si­ble and more ef­fec­tive by us­ing an­ti­bod­ies as con­di­tion­ing agents. These agents clear out bone mar­row to make room for the new stem cells to graft on­to the body.

The new com­pa­ny is one of a hand­ful now us­ing an­ti­bod­ies to help ease stem cell trans­plan­ta­tion. Cal­i­for­nia-based Forty Sev­en is test­ing a com­bi­na­tion of two an­ti­bod­ies, a c-Kit and a CD-47, in mon­keys. In Cam­bridge, Mass., Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics is work­ing on a c-Kit that re­leas­es a tox­in af­ter it binds.

William Lis

Jasper’s Phase I us­es a naked an­ti­body called JSP191 to help pa­tients with se­vere com­bined au­toim­mune de­fi­cien­cy re­ceive stem cell trans­plants – the on­ly pos­si­ble cure for the life-threat­en­ing dis­ease – but such trans­plants are used in a wide va­ri­ety of con­di­tions and Jasper has broad­er aims. Those in­clude oth­er au­toim­mune dis­eases, acute myeloid leukemia and cell-di­rect­ed gene ther­a­py.

“There’s a sig­nif­i­cant amount of progress be­ing made in gene ther­a­py,” in­ter­im CEO William Lis told End­points, “but no progress be­ing made in a con­di­tion­ing agent that will help graft gene ther­a­py.”

Shizu­ru path to the new an­ti­body was long and for­tu­itous. In 1987, Arl Arzst, the leg­endary ad ex­ec­u­tive and pres­i­dent of Proc­tor and Gam­ble in­ter­na­tion­al flew in on a re­cruit­ing trip for Stan­ford busi­ness stu­dents. There he vis­it­ed Shizu­ru, a young bi­ol­o­gy PhD can­di­date, be­cause he knew her room­mate. Arzst’s daugh­ter had di­a­betes and as Shizu­ru ex­plained the work she was do­ing on pan­cre­at­ic islet cell trans­plants, he told her to come to Eu­rope.

Shizu­ru had nev­er been to Eu­rope, but there Ar­szt in­tro­duced her to Ken Far­ber and the oth­er founders of the Ju­ve­nile Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion (now the JDRF). The founders struck a years-long cor­re­spon­dence and en­cour­aged Shizu­ru to go to med­ical school, where she de­cid­ed that if sci­en­tists were ever go­ing to de­vel­op trans­plants that didn’t trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse, it would be through stem cell work. She con­tin­ued her work at the Irv Weiss­man’s Stan­ford re­gen­er­a­tive lab, where even­tu­al­ly a grad­u­ate stu­dent made a dis­cov­ery that piqued her in­ter­est.

To put new stem cells in, you have to get the old stem cells out. That’s not al­ways easy. The cells sit in these pock­ets in the bone mar­row, and they’re pret­ty com­fort­able there. Doc­tors have to force them out, of­ten us­ing chemother­a­py or ra­di­a­tion, which dam­age DNA and cause se­vere side ef­fects. The costs some­times out­weigh the ben­e­fits.

“There are dis­eases we’re not treat­ing be­cause it’s too dan­ger­ous,” Shizu­ru said. “And the kids we’re treat­ing, they’re so, so frag­ile.”

The grad stu­dent had shown in mice that an­ti­bod­ies could be used to de­plete the stem cells and po­ten­tial­ly elim­i­nate the need for chemother­a­py or ra­di­a­tion. Shizu­ru and her team be­gan look­ing to see if any­one had de­vel­oped a hu­man ver­sion of the an­ti­body, CD117. It turned out Am­gen had al­ready de­vel­oped a ver­sion of this an­ti­body for a dif­fer­ent use. It al­so turned out she had a for­mer post­doc and a for­mer ad­vi­sor who worked there. They be­gan a col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“We set out to cross the val­ley of death,” Shizu­ru said, us­ing an in­dus­try slang term for the jump from an­i­mal mod­els to hu­man us­es.

Af­ter mak­ing a va­ri­ety of tweaks to the treat­ment, they pub­lished a pa­per in Sci­ence Trans­la­tion­al Med­i­cine in 2016 show­ing the an­ti­bod­ies cre­at­ed a 10,000 fold re­duc­tion in the num­ber of stem cells in mice.

The same year, they be­gan a clin­i­cal tri­al on 90 SCID pa­tients. These pa­tients had re­ceived stem cell trans­plants when they were very young but hadn’t been giv­en chemo or ra­di­a­tion for fear the side ef­fects would be too se­vere. The orig­i­nal trans­plants boost­ed their num­ber of im­mune cells, but with­out chemo or ra­di­a­tion, the stem cells don’t graft in­to those pock­ets and the body won’t con­tin­ue pro­duc­ing T cells. With­out those, they are ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly prone to in­fec­tion. Many pass away be­fore age 2.

The hope is that the an­ti­bod­ies al­lowed the stem cells to graft, and the pre­lim­i­nary an­swer to that ques­tion will be out on Mon­day. For the first girl in the tri­al, life has im­proved but ques­tions about how long her body will make im­mune cells re­main. Still, for that girl and oth­ers, Shizu­ru is con­fi­dent.

“We see there is stem cell en­graft­ment,” Shur­izi said. “They are ac­tu­al­ly mak­ing new T cells.”

Inside FDA HQ (File photo)

The FDA just ap­proved the third Duchenne MD drug. And reg­u­la­tors still don’t know if any of them work

Last year Sarepta hit center stage with the FDA’s controversial reversal of its CRL for the company’s second Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug — after the biotech was ambushed by agency insiders ready to reject a second pitch based on the same disease biomarker used for the first approval for eteplirsen, without actual data on the efficacy of the drug.

On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO

UP­DAT­ED: On the heels of a snap $1B raise, Cure­Vac out­lines plans to seek emer­gency OK for their Covid-19 vac­cine in a mat­ter of months

CureVac is going from being one of the quietest players in the race to develop a new vaccine to fight the worst public health crisis in a century to a challenger for the multibillion-dollar market that awaits the first vaccines to make it over the finish line. Typically low-key at a time of brash comments and incredibly ambitious development timelines from the leaders, CureVac now is jumping straight into the spotlight.

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Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

US gov­ern­ment re­port­ed­ly be­gins prepar­ing for Covid-19 chal­lenge tri­als. Are they eth­i­cal?

Controversial human challenge trials for potential Covid-19 vaccines reportedly have a new booster — the US government.

Scientists working for the government have begun manufacturing a strain of the novel coronavirus that could be used in such studies, Reuters reported Friday morning. The trials would enroll healthy volunteers to be vaccinated and then intentionally infected with a weakened coronavirus.

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Charlie Silver (Mission Bio)

'We want to be every­where.' Mis­sion Bio rais­es $70M be­hind re­sis­tance-hunt­ing se­quenc­ing plat­form

Charlie Silver wants to look really, really closely at a lot of your cells. And he just got a lot of money to do so.

Silver’s startup, Mission Bio, raised $70 million in a Series C round Thursday led by Novo Holdings. The money, which brings Mission Bio to $120 million raised since its 2012 founding, will be used to advance the single-cell sequencing platform they built to detect early response or resistance to new cancer therapies.

Trevor Martin (Mammoth)

Eye­ing in-vi­vo edit­ing, Mam­moth li­cens­es Jen­nifer Doud­na’s new CRISPR en­zyme

Last month, Jennifer Doudna revealed in Science a new, “hyper-compact” CRISPR enzyme that was half the size of traditional CRISPR enzymes and could, she suspected, offer a new, more versatile tool for gene editing.

Now, the University of California-Berkeley has licensed that enzyme, known as Casφ, exclusively to a biotech startup she and two former students set up three years ago: Mammoth Biosciences. It’s the second new CRISPR protein Mammoth has licensed from Doudna’s lab, after they licensed Cas14 in 2019.

Clockwise from left: Canaccord Genuity principal Michelle Gilson, Canaccord Genuity CSO Brian Mueller and BioMarin CSO Hank Fuchs (Canaccord Genuity webcast)

Bio­Marin CSO diss­es ri­vals for the he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py crown: Way be­hind, fac­ing big re­cruit­ment chal­lenges and at best a .6 on the gen-one scale

The leader in the race to a hemophilia A gene therapy does not like to be compared unfavorably to the competition. And when their top execs do the comparing, don’t look for any modesty — BioMarin, they say, owns the lead.

As Factor VIII expression wanes over time, quite a few analysts have raised questions about the kind of future BioMarin’s gene therapy — a supposed once-and-done treatment — faces if it stops working. But just 7 days away from their PDUFA date, with high odds of success, the top execs clearly feel that they are way out front, while promising their rivals will discover there’s a tough slog ahead trying to pursue trials where large numbers of patients are ineligible for new therapies.

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Sanofi vet Kather­ine Bowdish named CEO of PIC Ther­a­peu­tics; As the world Terns: Liv­er dis­ease biotech makes ex­ec­u­tive changes

PIC Therapeutics hasn’t raised much money, yet. But the fledgling biotech has attracted a high-profile player to the helm.

The Boston-based biotech has handed the reins to Katherine Bowdish as its president and CEO. Bowdish will also join the board of directors of PIC. Bowdish joins from Sanofi where she served as VP and head of R&D strategy, as well as helping launch and lead Sanofi Sunrise, a venture investment and partnering vehicle at Sanofi. Before that, Bowdish held several exec roles at Permeon Biologics, Anaphore, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Prolifaron (acquired by Alexion).

Stéphane Bancel speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House meeting on March 2 (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na of­fers steep dis­count in US sup­ply deal — but still takes the crown with close to $2.5B in vac­cine con­tracts

The US pre-order for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is in.

Operation Warp Speed is reserving $1.525 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna’s Phase III mRNA candidate, rounding out to about $15 per dose — including $300 million in incentive payments for timely delivery. Given that Moderna has a two-dose regimen, it’s good for vaccinating 50 million people. The US government also has the option to purchase another 400 million doses for a total of $6.6 billion, or $16.5 per dose.

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