José Baselga (Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: José Basel­ga, ac­claimed drug hunter, physi­cian and As­traZeneca's pi­o­neer­ing can­cer R&D chief, has died

José Basel­ga, the bril­liant on­col­o­gy R&D chief at As­traZeneca and a tow­er­ing fig­ure in can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment who had ear­li­er been chief med­ical of­fi­cer at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing, has died at the age of 61.

Basel­ga suc­cumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease, a rapid­ly pro­gres­sive and lethal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease close­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with mad cow dis­ease that is trig­gered in about 1 in every mil­lion peo­ple.

Pas­cal So­ri­ot moved swift­ly to re­or­ga­nize As­traZeneca’s R&D op­er­a­tions around Basel­ga af­ter he joined from Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing, where he had gar­nered ac­co­lades for his work in can­cer R&D.

News of his sud­den and shock­ing death spread swift­ly on Twit­ter, as col­leagues and friends weighed in with their farewells.

The Barcelona na­tive had an in­stant im­pact on the pipeline at As­traZeneca, di­rect­ing the phar­ma gi­ant to a late-stage al­liance on En­her­tu, which was quick­ly re­ward­ed with an ap­proval and a shot at a rapid­ly ex­pand­ing fran­chise. So­ri­ot hailed him at the time he joined the com­pa­ny as an “out­stand­ing sci­en­tif­ic leader” whose work at MSK had led to a va­ri­ety of sig­nif­i­cant new can­cer drugs. He had worked as an ad­vis­er with some of the biggest play­ers in on­col­o­gy, though his fail­ure to con­sis­tent­ly cite those re­la­tion­ships in the lit­er­a­ture would lead to a dust-up that led to his ex­it from MSK.

Basel­ga apol­o­gized di­rect­ly for that, and quite a num­ber of peo­ple in in­dus­try had felt that the con­tro­ver­sy was overblown at the time.

A not­ed breast can­cer spe­cial­ist, Basel­ga has been cit­ed for his ef­forts around PI3K re­search, which has more re­cent­ly in­spired fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion around mTOR and AKT in­hi­bi­tion.

So­ri­ot of­fered a heart­felt trib­ute to­day:

José cham­pi­oned our trans­for­ma­tive col­lab­o­ra­tions with Dai­ichi-Sankyo in re­la­tion to the clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of En­her­tu (trastuzum­ab derux­te­can) and datopotam­ab derux­te­can, two med­i­cines which have demon­strat­ed great po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit can­cer pa­tients. He led a team to ac­cel­er­ate oth­er ex­cit­ing new sci­ence in an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates, cell ther­a­py, epi­ge­net­ics, as well as new can­cer treat­ments. He al­so cham­pi­oned the use of re­al-world ev­i­dence and dig­i­tal tools to trans­form the way we de­sign and im­ple­ment clin­i­cal tri­als.

José built a world-class On­col­o­gy R&D team who will miss him dear­ly, just as all his col­leagues will through­out our en­tire Com­pa­ny.

José was more than a col­league to me. He was a friend, and some­one I im­mense­ly re­spect­ed and cher­ished. I will enor­mous­ly miss hav­ing him along­side me, and I will con­tin­ue to be in­spired by his work and vi­sion.

I had a chance to talk to Basel­ga about his work at As­traZeneca re­cent­ly, which you can see here.

Basel­ga’s daugh­ter — Clara Basel­ga-Gar­ri­ga — launched a fundrais­er Sun­day to sup­port re­search in­to Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (CJD). You can check it out here.

Voting in the 2020 election (AP Images)

The right to vote is fun­da­men­tal — a let­ter from biotech­nol­o­gy in­dus­try lead­ers

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We oppose all attempts to introduce laws that reduce the rights of US citizens to vote or that restrict them from exercising that right. The right to vote is fundamental to democracy. States that have enacted, or are proposing to enact, legislation to restrict voting are undermining our democracy and posing a threat to our nation. As leaders of the life sciences industry, we stand for what we believe is right for our country, our enterprises, our employees and those who benefit from our work. We join the first groups of business leaders who have challenged these laws and will continue to make our collective voices heard on this matter.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Anand Shah (FDA)

For­mer head of FDA’s med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic af­fairs on Covid: ‘FDA has nev­er been test­ed like this’

Anand Shah has served the American public in a unique way, crisscrossing over the last two administrations between serving as an attending radiation oncologist focused on prostate cancer at NIH, serving as CMO at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and most recently, leading the FDA’s operations on medical and scientific affairs from within the commissioner’s office.

Shah, who stepped down from the FDA in January, caught up with Endpoints News in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, offering his thoughts on the agency’s latest decision to pause the J&J vaccinations in the US, and reflecting on his time at an agency during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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UP­DAT­ED: J&J paus­es vac­cine roll­out as feds probe rare cas­es of blood clots

The FDA and CDC have jointly decided to stop administering J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine after reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.

CDC will convene a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. “FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, said in a joint statement Tuesday morning.

Pankaj Bhargava, MPM executive partner

Pankaj Bhar­ga­va was a cen­tral fig­ure in the group fash­ion­ing Gilead’s on­col­o­gy strat­e­gy. Now he’s jumped to the VC side and the next-gen game at Dana-Far­ber

Over the past 3 years, Pankaj Bhargava played a key role at Gilead as therapeutics area head of oncology, which put him in the dead center of one of the busiest pipeline makeovers in the industry.

“When I joined (the big biotech), there was a clear realization that Gilead had missed the first boat with immuno-oncology,” he tells me. “We hadn’t gone into the PD-1s, the checkpoints, etc. They had just bought Kite and the question was how do we get into oncology.”

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Patrizia Cavazzoni, new CDER director

Pa­trizia Cavaz­zoni named per­ma­nent di­rec­tor of CDER, adding to ques­tions around where Wood­cock will end up

Patrizia Cavazzoni on Monday became the permanent director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which puts to rest the idea that Janet Woodcock, Cavazzoni’s predecessor, might return to lead CDER if she isn’t made permanent commissioner.

Woodcock, who’s currently serving as acting commissioner and principal medical advisor to the commissioner, a position she was detailed to last year, may not make the move to permanent commissioner because of lingering questions from Senate Democrats. She previously served as director of CDER since 1994. Cavazzoni took over as acting director of CDER when Woodcock moved over to Operation Warp Speed to run the therapeutics side of the Trump-era program.

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Launched by MIT grads, a small start­up gets $20M to back a ro­bot­ics rev­o­lu­tion in cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing

As co-director of an experimental cellular therapy process development and manufacturing group at UCSF specializing in T cell therapies for autoimmune conditions, Jonathan Esensten has learned a lot about the challenges involved when his group hand-fashions a cell therapy. Esensten — who was a postdoc in Wendell Lim’s lab and counts the legendary Jeffrey Bluestone as a mentor — gives them all high marks at being great at what they do, but time and again there are variations in the treatments they construct.