Derek Jantz, Precision Biosciences

Jim Wilson's team hands Pre­ci­sion Bio a big proxy win for its PC­SK9 gene edit­ing tech with 3-year mon­key da­ta

James Wil­son

James Wil­son and his gene edit­ing team at UPenn have pub­lished a new pa­per in­to a one-time PC­SK9 ther­a­py, one that Pre­ci­sion Bio­sciences hopes can turn up the heat on its com­peti­tors at Verve.

Us­ing Pre­ci­sion’s pro­pri­etary AR­CUS gene edit­ing plat­form, Wil­son was able to demon­strate that PC­SK9 pro­tein and LDL cho­les­terol re­duc­tions could be sus­tained in mon­keys for at least three years af­ter treat­ment, Pre­ci­sion an­nounced Fri­day. Re­searchers ad­min­is­tered the ther­a­py to 10 mon­keys back in 2017 and re­port­ed re­duc­tions of up to 85% in PC­SK9 pro­tein lev­els and a 56% re­duc­tion of LDL cho­les­terol lev­els.

Those lev­els are slight­ly low­er than the fig­ures post­ed by Verve last month at JP Mor­gan, when the Sek Kathire­san-led biotech said it ob­served a 61% LDL cho­les­terol re­duc­tion and 89% cut in av­er­age blood PC­SK9 pro­tein lev­el. But Verve’s da­ta was record­ed af­ter on­ly six months — or one-sixth the time of Pre­ci­sion’s.

That dif­fer­ence in time is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Pre­ci­sion’s mon­keys have had the chance to go through sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions of liv­er cell turnover, and the cho­les­terol and PC­SK9 pro­tein re­duc­tions have re­mained sta­ble, CSO Derek Jantz told End­points News. Liv­er cells, or he­pa­to­cytes, typ­i­cal­ly on­ly live for about 200 days be­fore they die off and are re­plen­ished.

“What we’ve been able to show is that those sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions of cells are in­her­it­ing the gene ed­it,” Jantz said. “We are be­yond the life­time of a typ­i­cal non-hu­man pri­mate he­pa­to­cyte.”

Fri­day’s study is a fol­low-up from a pa­per pub­lished in 2018, which Jantz said demon­strat­ed short-term ben­e­fits of their gene edit­ing treat­ment. At that time, Pre­ci­sion saw PC­SK9 re­duc­tions of more than 90% at the high­est dose, af­ter which they fell slight­ly over the first nine months when the first liv­er cells were be­ing re­placed.

Since then, the lev­els have plateaued, giv­ing Pre­ci­sion what it says is ear­ly ev­i­dence that the treat­ment can be per­ma­nent. Even more promis­ing is that re­searchers didn’t see any ma­jor safe­ty is­sues man­i­fest in the three years since the mon­keys were dosed, Jantz said.

Pre­ci­sion used its AR­CUS genome edit­ing plat­form, com­ing from a group of North Car­oli­na sci­en­tists, which they claim has a bet­ter way to ac­com­plish DNA hack­ing than the gene edit­ing pro­mot­ed by biotechs work­ing on CRISPR/Cas9 tech­nolo­gies. AR­CUS deals with what’s known as the ARC nu­cle­ase, and the com­pa­ny says it pro­vides a sim­pler, more ef­fec­tive way of com­plet­ing the gene edit­ing process to al­low for low­er costs when pro­duc­tion even­tu­al­ly has to scale up, as well as low­er rates of off-tar­get edit­ing.

AR­CUS can be used to ei­ther in­sert, re­move or re­pair DNA in in vi­vo set­tings. In this in­stance, the PC­SK9 gene was “knocked out,” re­sult­ing in low­er lev­els of the pro­tein, Jantz said.

That’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach than the one used by Verve, which is aim­ing to uti­lize the next-gen­er­a­tion gene edit­ing tool called base edit­ing. Where­as the first gen­er­a­tion of CRISPR gene edit­ing mol­e­cules would snip the DNA se­quence and let it re­pair on its own, base edit­ing works by con­vert­ing one let­ter on the genome to an­oth­er.

In Verve’s case, re­searchers made a sin­gle change from A to G in the ge­net­ic se­quence of the PC­SK9 gene in the liv­er.

Both com­pa­nies are look­ing at fa­mil­ial hy­per­c­ho­les­terolemia as a po­ten­tial in­di­ca­tion, with Verve aim­ing to dose its first pa­tient in the het­erozy­gous form of the dis­ease some­time in 2022. Pre­ci­sion, how­ev­er, isn’t giv­ing any timeta­bles as to when it could launch an in-hu­man tri­al, with Jantz say­ing any such study is still “a ways away.” Both are aim­ing to re­place chron­ic treat­ments for dis­ease with one-time in­jec­tions.

Though ex­cit­ed by Fri­day’s re­sults, Pre­ci­sion is not tar­get­ing PC­SK9 as its lead pro­gram. That would be an off-the-shelf CAR-T ther­a­py for acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lym­phoma, aim­ing to tar­get CD19. The pro­gram read out in­ter­im re­sults from a Phase I/IIa tri­al last De­cem­ber.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; 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.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Matt Kapusta, uniQure CEO

In trou­bled Hunt­ing­ton’s space, uniQure’s gene ther­a­py shows ear­ly promise

In randomized clinical trial data from a small number of patients, Dutch biotech uniQure shared that its gene therapy for Huntington’s disease seems to reduce the amount of the mutant protein responsible for the disease over the course of a year.

In seven patients with early-stage Huntington’s — four who got the treatment and three who got a placebo — mutant huntingtin protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid decreased by an average of just over 50% in patients who got the gene therapy compared to around a 17% drop in patients who got the placebo after a year.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.