Jeff Be­zos teams with Bill Gates to fund new and bet­ter ways to di­ag­nose Alzheimer’s

The world’s wealth­i­est man is chip­ping in­to a new fund from one of the oth­er rich­est men on the plan­et to fi­nance a hunt for new, bet­ter and cheap­er ways to di­ag­nose Alzheimer’s.

E-tail mogul Jeff Be­zos — along­side his es­tranged wife MacKen­zie — added $15 mil­lion to the $35 mil­lion Bill Gates helped put to­geth­er for the di­ag­nos­tics work be­ing done by the Alzheimer’s Drug Dis­cov­ery Foun­da­tion.

Gates dove in­to the field back in the fall of 2017, com­mit­ting $50 mil­lion of his non­prof­it foun­da­tion’s cash and $50 mil­lion from his per­son­al for­tune to in­vest in a new ap­proach to the dis­ease, urg­ing a re­turn to ba­sic re­search in the hunt for new ideas about what caus­es Alzheimer’s, push­ing past amy­loid be­ta — which has been a non­starter to date — and tau, the oth­er pop­u­lar tar­get.

As Gates not­ed in a blog about the new work, di­ag­nos­ing Alzheimer’s has been ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult, of­ten re­ly­ing on spinal taps. But he spot­light­ed sev­er­al new pro­grams un­der­way to de­vel­op cheap and sim­ple new di­ag­nos­tics, which would make it faster and far more ef­fi­cient to re­cruit pa­tients and test new drugs — a field lit­tered with one tri­al dis­as­ter af­ter the next.

Gates high­light­ed the work Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty re­searcher Randy Bate­man has been do­ing to cre­ate a sim­ple blood test for the mem­o­ry-wast­ing dis­ease, while Rho­da Au is work­ing on a test that would use a per­son’s voice to de­ter­mine whether they suf­fered from the dis­ease, and what stage they were at.

They now have the back­ing of some deep, deep pock­ets look­ing to fund the ex­plo­ration of fresh ideas.


Im­age: Cliff Owen. AP 

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Covid-19 roundup: Vac­cines will need to beat place­bo by 50% to qual­i­fy for FDA OK; UK tri­al drops Kale­tra

The FDA will set the bar for approving a Covid-19 vaccine at 50% efficacy, the Wall Street Journal reported, meaning any successful candidate will have to reduce the risk of coronavirus disease by at least half compared to placebo.

That requirement is part of guidance that the agency is set to release later today, laying out detailed criteria for vaccine developers — some of whom are eyeing an OK by the end of the year, in line with expectations at Operation Warp Speed.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Take­da maps out a dis­cov­ery al­liance aimed at break­ing through the safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy bound­aries that lim­it the first-gen gene ther­a­pies

MIT headliner Harvey Lodish and Jiahai Shi in Hong Kong leant some of their work in red blood cells to help found Rubius, a Flagship startup that has been disappointing investors with its inability to stay on track with the clinical work.

But Lodish and Shi also backed another, lesser-known startup — Carmine Therapeutics — that has now inked its first Big Pharma partnership. And this one is hoping to make it big in one of the hottest fields in drug R&D: gene therapy.

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