J&J wows with a $350M cash deal to part­ner on CAR-T with Leg­end, a one-time un­known un­til its star turn at AS­CO

J&J has found its next big can­cer drug. In Chi­na.

The phar­ma gi­ant has agreed to pay $350 mil­lion up­front to part­ner with Leg­end Biotech to de­vel­op its BC­MA-tar­get­ing CAR-T LCAR-B38M for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma.

Don’t know Leg­end? You should.

The vir­tu­al­ly un­known biotech wowed AS­CO with ear­ly-stage da­ta on its CAR-T and clear­ly caught J&J’s at­ten­tion. The deal vaults J&J in­to an in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive race to get the first BC­MA cell ther­a­py to an ap­proval, with blue­bird bio in the lead and Juno and oth­ers in hot pur­suit.

Re­searchers for the com­pa­ny re­port­ed that among 35 re­lapsed, drug-re­sis­tant pa­tients, 33 — 94% — demon­strat­ed clin­i­cal re­mis­sion rang­ing from a com­plete to a par­tial re­sponse. There was a 100% ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so flagged some promis­ing signs of dura­bil­i­ty.

That drug is now un­der re­view by Chi­nese reg­u­la­tors, with a clin­i­cal plan be­ing fleshed out for the US.

In ad­di­tion to pay­ing half the de­vel­op­ment costs, J&J al­so agreed to pay Leg­end half the prof­its from glob­al sales, with the Chi­nese biotech tak­ing 70% of the haul in Chi­na.

J&J has done a string of big can­cer drug deals with big up­fronts like this. One of them — Apa­lu­tamide (ARN-509) for pre-metasta­t­ic prostate can­cer — is now a star late-stage ther­a­py. J&J picked up this drug with its $1 bil­lion deal for Aragon. These new drugs were part of one leg of the com­pa­ny’s three-leg strat­e­gy for grow­ing rev­enue, with a promise that it can im­prove sig­nif­i­cant­ly on ex­ist­ing drugs — like Ste­lara, In­vokana and Xarel­to — while beef­ing up on a new core fo­cus on pul­monary ar­te­r­i­al hy­per­ten­sion through the Acte­lion buy­out.

And it has one more to add to that list.

“De­spite sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances, mul­ti­ple myelo­ma re­mains an in­cur­able dis­ease for most pa­tients, cre­at­ing the need for ad­di­tion­al, high­ly ac­tive op­tions. LCAR-B38M pro­vides an in­no­v­a­tive ap­proach with the po­ten­tial to trans­form the treat­ment of myelo­ma,” said Janssen’s glob­al head of on­col­o­gy Pe­ter Lebowitz. “We look for­ward to col­lab­o­rat­ing with the pi­o­neer­ing sci­en­tif­ic team at Leg­end and ap­ply­ing our ex­per­tise to the de­vel­op­ment of this cell ther­a­py, with the goal of build­ing reg­i­mens aim­ing for a cure.”


Pic­tured: Nan­jing, Chi­na on April 27th, 2017  shut­ter­stock

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Biohaven CEO Vlad Coric (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

Pssst: That big Bio­haven Alzheimer's study? It was a bust. Even the sub­group analy­sis ex­ecs tout­ed was a flop

You know it’s bad when a biopharma player plucks out a subgroup analysis for a positive take — even though it was way off the statistical mark for success, like everything else.

So it was for Biohaven $BHVN on MLK Monday, as the biotech reported on the holiday that their Phase II/III Alzheimer’s study for troriluzole flunked both co-primary endpoints as well as a key biomarker analysis.

The drug — a revised version of the ALS drug riluzole designed to regulate glutamate — did not “statistically differentiate” from placebo on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale 11 (ADAS-cog) and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB).  The “hippocampal volume” assessment by MRI also failed to distinguish itself from placebo for all patients fitting the mild-to-moderate disease profile they had established for the study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (GSK via YouTube)

Glax­o­SmithK­line's $4B bis­pe­cif­ic can­cer drug al­liance with Mer­ck KGaA hit by big set­back with a PhI­II fail­ure on NSCLC

Close to 2 years ago, GSK’s R&D team eagerly agreed to pay up to $4 billion-plus to ally itself with Merck KGaA on a mid-stage bispecific called bintrafusp alfa, which intrigued them with the combination of a TGF-β trap with the anti-PD-L1 mechanism in one fusion protein.

But today the German pharma company says that their lead study on lung cancer was a bust, as independent monitors said there was no reason to believe that the experimental drug — targeting PD-L1/TGF-Beta — could beat Keytruda.

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News brief­ing: Ve­rastem CMO ex­its two weeks af­ter join­ing com­pa­ny; Ther­mo Fish­er inks $550M M&A deal

Two weeks after joining Verastem Oncology as chief medical officer, Frank Neumann is leaving the company for another job.

Neumann had joined Verastem after leaving bluebird bio, which surprisingly split into two companies last week, one in oncology and one in rare diseases. It’s not yet clear to where Neumann is headed next, but he noted in a statement that Verastem’s data and strategy were “truly exciting.”

FDA hits the brakes on His­to­gen's knee car­ti­lage ther­a­py, ask­ing for more in­fo on man­u­fac­tur­ing process

A month after filing the IND application for its human extracellular matrix designed to regenerate knee cartilage, Histogen has hit a roadblock.

The FDA on Tuesday verbally notified the San Diego-based biotech that it was placing a clinical hold on the planned Phase I/II clinical trial of HST-003 due to pending CMC information and additional questions needed to complete their review.

Histogen had planned to test the safety and efficacy of implanting hECM within microfracture interstices and related cartilage defects to regenerate that cartilage in conjunction with a microfracture procedure. The company said in a press release that it expects to receive written notice of the clinical hold from the FDA by Feb 12.

Andrew Allen, Gritstone CEO (Gritstone via website)

Grit­stone con­tin­ues Covid-19 push with deal to de­vel­op 'self-am­pli­fy­ing RNA' vac­cines, as shares con­tin­ue bal­loon­ing

Gritstone Oncology has had a big week, and it’s only Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the biotech revealed plans to start clinical testing of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine — in tandem with NIAID — that can also target other coronaviruses, with the goal of preventing future pandemics should SARS-CoV-2 prove difficult to cure with current vaccines. Then, on Wednesday morning, Gritstone licensed lipid nanoparticle technology from Genevant Sciences to develop what it’s calling “self-amplifying RNA vaccines” against Covid-19.

Artist rendering of the Assembly Square site in Somerville, MA (BioMed Realty)

Bio­Med Re­al­ty snaps up in­no­va­tion cam­pus site with­in earshot of pricey and bustling Boston biotech hub

On the short list of the premier biotech hubs in the world, the Boston area has transformed into a home for innovation — and ridiculously high rent. Now, a real estate firm is seeking tenants for a major site in neighboring Somerville with more than enough elbow room.

Snapped up by BioMed Realty, the land — which consists of an existing 162,000 square-foot office building and a 7.5 acre site — will serve as an “innovation space” for a variety of research, technology and life science tenants, the real estate company said in a press release. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Union members strike in France, AP Images

Paul Hud­son faces down French unions in fight to re­struc­ture Sanofi

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is facing a familiar adversary in his efforts to cut up to 1,680 jobs from the French pharma giant: French unions.

Around 200 union members staged a one-day strike Tuesday at Sanofi’s main Covid-19 vaccine plant in Marcy-l’Étoile to protest the cuts, The Associated Press reported, with other members joining at other facilities across the country.

France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire, meanwhile, went on French radio twice this week to talk about the company. On Monday, per Reuters, he told RTL that Sanofi would not close any plants or lay off any employees in the restructuring. But on Wednesday morning, he re-emerged on BFM and said he would like three things from the drugmaker, including confirmation that there will be no site closures and layoffs.

Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.