Join­ing forces with Sky­hawk, C4 Ther­a­peu­tics, Bio­gen buys more shots on goal on SMA, Alzheimer's

These days at Bio­gen, the spot­light tends to fall on one of two pro­grams: Its com­mer­cial SMA drug Spin­raza, and the ex­per­i­men­tal Alzheimer’s ther­a­py ad­u­canum­ab — and its deal­mak­ing team knows it.

Michael Ehlers

In twin deals an­nounced on Fri­day, Bio­gen $BI­IB is ty­ing up with Sky­hawk Ther­a­peu­tics to ex­plore small mol­e­cule RNA splic­ing mod­i­fiers for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy and sign­ing on C4 Ther­a­peu­tics to re­search the ap­pli­ca­tion of pro­tein degra­da­tion tech in Alzheimer’s — among oth­er ear­ly-stage projects in neu­rol­o­gy.

The fi­nan­cial terms dis­closed so far add up to $489 mil­lion be­tween the two pacts.

Bill Haney’s Sky­hawk has the more de­lin­eat­ed deal: $74 mil­lion up­front for re­search ser­vices and in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights on pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates to treat SMA, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and ad­di­tion­al neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. Any ther­a­pies re­sult­ing from the col­lab­o­ra­tion are up for grabs for Bio­gen, which will be re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

Kath­leen Mc­Carthy

Sky­hawk’s work is in­spired by an ex­pe­ri­enced group led by co-founder and CSO Kath­leen Mc­Carthy, who worked at Roche on the SMA drug RG7916 — now in piv­otal tri­als af­ter scor­ing pos­i­tive ear­ly re­sults — with a stint at the Spinal Mus­cu­lar At­ro­phy Foun­da­tion, where she had worked on a small mol­e­cule ther­a­peu­tic tar­get­ing mR­NA-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions for SMA.

Both Roche and No­var­tis are now hot on the trail of Bio­gen’s Spin­raza, the pi­o­neer­ing ther­a­py in the field that’s al­so one of the world’s most ex­pen­sive drugs.

“The SMA piece of the Bio­gen col­lab­o­ra­tion is es­pe­cial­ly in­ter­est­ing as: (1) com­pe­ti­tion in the space has in­creased and (2) an oral small mol­e­cule drug from Roche has re­cent­ly shown very promis­ing ev­i­dence of ac­tiv­i­ty, val­i­dat­ing the vi­a­bil­i­ty of the oral splic­ing mod­u­la­tion ap­proach,” Stifel an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

C4, mean­while, will help Bio­gen iden­ti­fy tar­gets in Alzheimer’s, Parkin­son’s and oth­er dis­eases, and pro­vide the tech to tag these dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins for de­struc­tion by the cell’s in­nate degra­da­tion mech­a­nism, ac­cord­ing to Michael Ehlers, EVP of R&D at Bio­gen. The whole col­lab­o­ra­tion is worth $415 mil­lion and though there’s no men­tion of the up­front, Bio­gen says it ex­pects to record an R&D ex­pense of $15 to $25 mil­lion in Q4 2018.

Found­ed by Jay Brad­ner be­fore he took the reins of the No­var­tis In­sti­tutes for Bio­Med­ical Re­search, C4 has on deck a col­lab­o­ra­tion with stealthy an­ti-ag­ing start­up Cal­i­co and an­oth­er on­col­o­gy pact with Roche, which got a $900 mil­lion ex­pan­sion Fri­day morn­ing.

 

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

What lured Hal Bar­ron away?; Top FDA minds on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms; ‘Dead wrong’ Aduhelm ad blitz; 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.

Nothing can really compete with Hal Barron’s departure from GlaxoSmithKline as the news of the week, but we do have plenty of original reporting and analysis from the Endpoints team in this edition. Enjoy and have a nice weekend.

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Mer­ck wins le­gal bat­tle over in­sur­ance cov­er­age af­ter ran­somware at­tack

Merck has emerged victorious from a years-long legal battle with insurers over the coverage of more than a billion dollars in losses from the malware NotPetya, with a New Jersey Superior Court judge concluding that the responsibility is on insurers to clarify their policies around cyber attacks.

The pharma giant was one of several victims of a global cyber attack back in 2017 that also hit Danish shipping company Maersk, American food company Mondelēz, French construction giant Saint-Gobain and even the systems monitoring the Chernobyl nuclear power stations, Bloomberg reported back in 2019.

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Crit­ics push back on Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion ad blitz to get Medicare to change its Aduhelm rul­ing: 'Dead wrong'

The latest Alzheimer’s Association advertising campaign encourages people to fight.

Not against the disease or for more research or treatments, but against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More specifically, CMS’ recent reimbursement decision to only pay for Biogen and Eisai’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm for patients in clinical trials.

With CMS’ preliminary decision now in a 30-day comment period, patient advocates’ goal is to convince CMS to reverse its decision with a marketing blitz and public pressure.

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

Fail­ing to con­firm clin­i­cal ben­e­fit, Gilead pulls 2 ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval in­di­ca­tions for can­cer drug

Gilead recently decided to pull two indications for its cancer drug Zydelig — in relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and relapsed small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL) — after failing to complete the confirmatory trials required as part of the accelerated approvals from 2014.

“As the treatment landscape for FL and SLL has evolved, enrollment into the confirmatory study has been an ongoing challenge,” Gilead said in a statement, noting it formally notified the FDA of its decision to voluntarily withdraw these indications.

Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

An­oth­er day, an­oth­er xeno­trans­plant, as Unit­ed Ther­a­peu­tics looks to beat com­peti­tors to sci-fi-es­que break­through

Xenotransplantation is having a moment.

Last October, a team from NYU successfully transplanted a kidney from a pig into a brain-dead patient, although observers cast doubt on the importance of the experiment. Then, earlier this month, surgeons at the University of Maryland transplanted a pig heart into a dying human, who appears to still be stable.

Now, another group is planting a flag in the xenotransplantation field. Surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said Thursday they have achieved the first kidney transplant from a pig to a brain-dead patient, publishing their peer-reviewed findings online. The team, aiming to differentiate itself from the others through the genetic modifications used, is hoping there’s now enough research to soon begin clinical xenotransplantation studies.

Richard Pazdur (via AACR)

Time lim­its on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals? FDA's on­col­o­gy chief Rick Paz­dur eyes po­ten­tial re­forms via in­ter­na­tion­al ap­proach­es

The spotlight on the accelerated approval pathway continues to shine bright, with the FDA’s top oncology official writing in an opinion that the pathway may be strengthened with bits and pieces of what other regulators in Europe and elsewhere have done with their expedited approval pathways, such as adding expiration dates for these faster approvals to ensure they confirm clinical benefit in a timely manner.

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