Susan Hill, Mestag CEO

J&J, GV back a new sin­gle-cell ap­proach for tack­ling in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases and hack­ing the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment

Most biotechs try­ing to tack­le in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­or­ders like IBD or at­tempt­ing to boost the po­ten­cy of im­munother­a­pies for can­cer have fo­cused, log­i­cal­ly, on tar­get­ing, block­ing or redi­rect­ing im­mune cells.

J&J, GV and North­pond Ven­tures, though, are back­ing a com­pa­ny with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, seed­ing UK-based Mestag Ther­a­peu­tics with $45 mil­lion to ex­plore whether drug­ging fi­brob­lasts — the cells that cre­ate and form the body’s con­nec­tive tis­sue — can help get at the un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nisms that let tu­mors evade the im­mune sys­tems and keep pa­tients with dis­eases like IBD in a con­stant state of in­flam­ma­tion.

“There’s lots of ac­tiv­i­ty look­ing at the im­mune cells: B cells, T cells, mast cells,” Mestag CEO Su­san Hill told End­points News. “But ac­tu­al­ly the sur­round­ing tis­sues and the role they might be play­ing are of­ten over­looked.”

Soumya Ray­chaud­huri

Mestag builds off work at Har­vard, The Broad In­sti­tute, Cold Spring Har­bor and else­where that used a rel­a­tive­ly new tech­nol­o­gy, sin­gle-cell se­quenc­ing, to dis­cov­er dif­fer­ent sub­types of fi­brob­lasts in dis­eased tis­sue and show how cer­tain ones were im­pli­cat­ed in dis­ease. Har­vard’s Soumya Ray­chaud­huri and Ox­ford’s Chris Buck­ley, along­side Mark Coles and Michael Bren­ner at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal, found fi­brob­lasts dri­ving in­flam­ma­tion in arthri­tis. At Cold Spring Har­bor, David Tu­ve­son found fi­brob­lasts im­pli­cat­ed in pan­cre­at­ic can­cer.

Fi­brob­lasts, they showed, don’t sim­ply form the struc­ture of tis­sues. They al­so se­crete sig­nals that com­mu­ni­cate with oth­er cells and par­tic­u­lar­ly im­mune cells, di­rect­ing them on where to go.

Hill said Mestag will try to de­vel­op drugs that can ef­fec­tive­ly re­pro­gram a sub­set of fi­brob­lasts around a tu­mor so that the cells go from im­mune-sup­pres­sive to im­mune-ac­ti­vat­ing. The goal would be to use the drug in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors, one of a pha­lanx of ap­proach­es re­searchers have de­ployed in an ef­fort to boost im­munother­a­pies or ap­ply them to more pa­tients.

The com­pa­ny will sim­i­lar­ly try to change the sig­nals com­ing from fi­brob­lasts im­pli­cat­ed in in­flam­ma­tion. Hill said she be­lieved the com­pa­ny could get at a more un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nism for in­flam­ma­tion than cur­rent ther­a­pies that try to sup­press the im­mune sys­tem.

“Of­ten in many in­flam­ma­to­ry in­di­ca­tions, the top ther­a­peu­tic ap­proach­es are tar­get­ing im­mune ef­fec­tor cells. But when you look at the clin­i­cal da­ta, the ma­jor­i­ty of pa­tients nev­er re­al­ly reach prop­er clin­i­cal re­mis­sion,” Hill said. “So there must be some­thing” con­tin­u­ing to dri­ve dis­ease.

Mestag an­nounced an ini­tial seed in April, with $11 mil­lion from J&J and SV Health In­vestors. They an­nounced a $34 mil­lion ex­ten­sion Mon­day led by For­bion and joined by GV and North­pond along­side the pre­vi­ous two back­ers.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing ear­ly in­vest­ment, J&J al­so inked a part­ner­ship the now 25-per­son com­pa­ny.  The two will use sin­gle-cell analy­sis and oth­er tools to find nov­el tar­gets for in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases.

Those ef­forts re­main ear­ly stage, though. Hill said the com­pa­ny is still in dis­cov­ery and would not be in the clin­ic for at least a cou­ple of years.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

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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Amgen VP of R&D David Reese

Am­gen rolls out da­ta for KRAS in­hibitor com­bo study in col­orec­tal can­cer, hop­ing to move on from ug­ly ear­ly re­sults

With the first win for its KRAS inhibitor sotorasib in hand, Amgen is pushing ahead with an aggressive clinical plan to capitalize on its first-to-market standing. The drugmaker thinks combinations — in-house or otherwise — could offer a path forward, and one early readout from that strategy is bearing fruit.

A combination of Amgen’s sotorasib and its EGFR inhibitor Vectibix posted an overall response rate of 27% in 26 patients with advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) with the KRAS-G12C mutation, according to data from the larger Phase Ib/II CODEBREAK 101 study set to present at this weekend’s virtual ESMO Congress.

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Gri­fols drops $1B on Ger­man hold­ing com­pa­ny in con­tin­ued plas­ma push

One Spanish biotech is beefing up its plasma therapy operations, and on Friday, it announced that it’s doing so in a billion-dollar deal.

Grifols is now the largest shareholder of Biotest, a company valued at more than $1.8 billion. By teaming up, the two will try to increase the number of plasma therapies available and increase patient access around the world, Grifols said in a press release.

The company did so by acquiring holding company Tiancheng Pharmaceutical, the Germany-based owner of nearly 90% of Biotest shares, for nearly $1.27 billion. Grifols now owns nearly 90% of Biotest voting rights and almost 45% of the total share capital of Biotest.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Eu­ro­pean study finds that Gilead­'s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir shows no clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Gilead’s remdesivir — or Veklury, as it’s marketed in the US — raked in around $2.8 billion last year as the only FDA-approved antiviral to treat Covid-19. But new data from a European study suggest the drug, which has been given to about half of hospitalized Covid patients in the country, has no actual benefit.

The open-label DisCoVeRy trial enrolled Covid-19 patients across 48 sites in Europe to test a handful of treatments, including remdesivir, lopinavir–ritonavir, lopinavir–ritonavir and interferon beta-1a, and hydroxychloroquine. To participate, patients had to show symptoms for seven days and require oxygen support. A total of 429 patients were randomized to receive remdesivir plus standard of care, while 428 were assigned to standard of care alone.

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Covid-19 roundup: FDA re­veals boost­er ad­comm ques­tion; Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cock­tail cleared for pre­ven­tion

The FDA released briefing documents this week from the agency and Pfizer each outlining their arguments for today’s Covid-19 booster shot adcomm, but one thing conspicuously missing was the question on which panel members would be voting. But late Thursday night, regulators published that question.

Adcomm members will be asked whether or not the safety and efficacy data from Pfizer/BioNTech’s original Phase III study “support approval” of a booster shot at least six months after the second dose in individuals older than 16. The question notably excludes the real-world data from Israel and other analyses that Pfizer and the Biden administration had said would be a centerpiece of their arguments for boosters.

A Pfiz­er part­ner wel­comes ex-ADC Ther­a­peu­tics CMO Jay Fein­gold to the team; Amid tough sled­ding, Im­muno­vant choos­es Eli Lil­ly alum as CFO

→ Last week we told you about the CMO revolving door at ADC Therapeutics, as Joseph Camardo replaced the departing Jay Feingold. The next opportunity for Feingold in the CMO slot has opened up at antibody-drug conjugate and mAb developer Pyxis Oncology, which has added several new execs and scientific advisory board members in recent months, including ex-Immunovant CFO Pamela Yanchik Connealy. Before his tenure at ADC, Feingold was Daiichi Sankyo’s VP of US medical affairs and chairman of the Global Medical Affairs Oversight Committee. Within weeks in March, Pyxis struck a licensing deal with Pfizer for two of its ADCs and raked in $152 million from a Series B round.

Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks CEO

Zymeworks squares up with Her­ceptin af­ter HER2 bis­pe­cif­ic aces mid-stage test in esophageal can­cer

Roche’s Herceptin has long stood as standard of care across multiple advanced cancers, but a suite of next-gen players are looking to beat the aging giant at its own game. In HER2-expressing esophageal cancer, BeiGene partner Zymeworks thinks its bispecific antibody could have the juice to get it done.

Zymeworks’ bispecific antibody zanidatamab, combined with one of two chemotherapy regimens, posted an overall response rate of 75% in patients with advanced gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma (GEA) who had not previously received a HER2-targeted cancer therapy, the Vancouver-based biotech said Thursday.

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead keeps push­ing trove of Trodelvy da­ta as it seeks to be­come new stan­dard of care in TNBC

Gilead is continuing to churn out results for its newly approved drug Trodelvy, and #ESMO21 is the latest stop on the data train.

The biopharma put out new quality of life data in second-line patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, saying that a sub-analysis from their Phase III study showed significant and clinically meaningful improvements in health-related quality of life over standard of care.