Art Levin (Avidity Biosciences)

#JPM21: Avid­i­ty CSO Art Levin runs full speed to the clin­ic with 'dream' an­ti­body oligonu­cleotide con­ju­gate ther­a­py

Art Levin is liv­ing his “sci­en­tist’s dream come true.”

The Avid­i­ty Bio­sciences CSO set out years ago to build a new class of oligonu­cleotide-based ther­a­pies for se­vere mus­cle dis­eases, like Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy (DMD) and my­oton­ic dy­s­tro­phy (DM1) — rare, ge­net­ic dis­or­ders that caus­es pro­gres­sive mus­cle weak­ness.

“As you might imag­ine, in the 15 or 16 years I’ve been work­ing on this, I’ve seen boys go from be­ing tod­dlers, to be­ing wheel­chair-bound, or even ven­ti­la­tor-bound,” he said, re­fer­ring to DMD. “It would be re­al­ly … a sci­en­tif­ic dream of mine to ac­tu­al­ly make a dif­fer­ence for this pa­tient pop­u­la­tion.”

At JP Mor­gan, Avid­i­ty is up­dat­ing in­vestors that their DM1 can­di­date is of­fi­cial­ly off to the races — head­ed for a Phase I/II tri­al in the sec­ond half of this year. The team is al­so div­ing in­to a part­ner­ship with Bris­tol My­ers Squibb sub­sidiary MyoKar­dia to ex­plore their ap­proach in car­diac tis­sue.

“It’s re­al­ly grat­i­fy­ing that this tech­nol­o­gy that we built and en­gi­neered in-house our­selves is com­ing to fruition,” Levin said.

DM1 is caused by hun­dreds of thou­sands of nu­cleotide re­peats at the end of a gene called DMPK. When the DMPK gene is tran­scribed in­to RNA, the RNA al­so car­ries the nu­cleotide re­peats, which form a hair­pin loop struc­ture, mak­ing the RNA tox­ic to the cell.

“Us­ing the tech­nol­o­gy that we’re talk­ing about, you can re­verse that and re­place these mis­placed pro­teins or mis­s­pliced RNA with prop­er­ly spliced RNA,” Levin told End­points back in 2019. “In the ac­tu­al treat­ment of pa­tients, we should ac­tu­al­ly be able to re­verse some of the na­ture of this dis­ease.”

The idea that you can use oligonu­cleotides to mod­i­fy hu­man RNA isn’t new. The prob­lem has al­ways been de­liv­ery, Levin said.

“Cells have evolved over eons to try and keep out RNA and keep out for­eign DNA,” he said. “So you re­al­ly have to trick the cell in­to want­i­ng to take up our oligonu­cleotide ther­a­peu­tic.”

The team is work­ing on An­ti­body Oligonu­cleotide Con­ju­gates (AOCs) — oligonu­cleotides com­bined with mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies in­to a sin­gle con­ju­gate that can be more eas­i­ly di­rect­ed to pre­cise tis­sues.

Avid­i­ty al­so has AOC pro­grams for fa­cioscapu­lo­humer­al mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy (FSHD), Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy (DMD), and mus­cle at­ro­phy (MA). The FSHD pro­gram is head­ed for IND en­abling stud­ies this year, and the biotech ex­pects to file for a clin­i­cal tri­al in 2022. There are three pro­grams with­in DMD, the leader of which tar­gets Ex­on 44. The com­pa­ny plans on sub­mit­ting for per­mis­sion to en­ter the clin­ic in 2022.

In June, the biotech land­ed a near­ly $300 mil­lion IPO to make it all hap­pen. They tagged $65 mil­lion for their DM1 can­di­date, $35 mil­lion for DMD, and $25 mil­lion for MA, ac­cord­ing to an S-1/A. 

“We al­so in­tend to pur­sue the de­vel­op­ment of AOCs in cell types in ad­di­tion to mus­cle. In pre­clin­i­cal mod­els, we ob­served the abil­i­ty of AOCs not on­ly to de­liv­er to the liv­er, skele­tal and car­diac mus­cle, but al­so to oth­er tis­sue and cell types, in­clud­ing im­mune cells,” the doc­u­ment states.

Eli Lil­ly holds 6.6% of Avid­i­ty’s stock, ac­cord­ing to the S-1/A. Back in 2019, Avid­i­ty inked a li­cens­ing and re­search deal with Lil­ly, snag­ging $20 mil­lion up­front and an in­vest­ment of $15 mil­lion. Lil­ly is of­fer­ing up to $405 mil­lion more in mile­stones, plus roy­al­ties.

Levin kept mum about what the com­pa­ny is work­ing on with MyoKar­dia, on­ly re­veal­ing that they’re de­vel­op­ing a “sin­gle ther­a­peu­tic en­ti­ty.” The com­pa­nies are keep­ing the fi­nan­cial terms of the deal un­der wraps for now.

“We’re now re­al­ly now see­ing the fruits of all those labors come true,” Levin said. “We can build on peo­ple’s new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what is a fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of life: RNA. Peo­ple are fi­nal­ly be­gin­ning to re­al­ize that this is a re­al way to cre­ate ther­a­peu­tic en­ti­ties.”

A cor­rec­tion has been made to clar­i­fy that Levin was re­fer­ring to DMD, not DM1, in his quote in the third para­graph.

The DCT-OS: A Tech­nol­o­gy-first Op­er­at­ing Sys­tem - En­abling Clin­i­cal Tri­als

As technology-enabled clinical research becomes the new normal, an integrated decentralized clinical trial operating system can ensure quality, deliver consistency and improve the patient experience.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines has many of us looking forward to a time when everyday things return to a state of normal. Schools and teachers are returning to classrooms, offices and small businesses are reopening, and there’s a palpable sense of optimism that the often-awkward adjustments we’ve all made personally and professionally in the last year are behind us, never to return. In the world of clinical research, however, some pandemic-necessitated adjustments are proving to be more than emergency stopgap measures to ensure trial continuity — and numerous decentralized clinical trial (DCT) tools and methodologies employed within the last year are likely here to stay as part of biopharma’s new normal.

Onno van de Stolpe, Galapagos CEO (Thierry Roge/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Gala­pa­gos chops in­to their pipeline, drop­ping core fields and re­or­ga­niz­ing R&D as the BD team hunts for some­thing 'trans­for­ma­tive'

Just 5 months after Gilead gutted its rich partnership with Galapagos following a bitter setback at the FDA, the Belgian biotech is hunkering down and chopping the pipeline in an effort to conserve cash while their BD team pursues a mission to find a “transformative” deal for the company.

The filgotinib disaster didn’t warrant a mention as Galapagos laid out its Darwinian restructuring plans. Forced to make choices, the company is ditching its IPF molecule ’1205, while moving ahead with a Phase II IPF study for its chitinase inhibitor ’4617.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Stéphane Bancel, Getty

Mod­er­na CEO brush­es off US sup­port for IP waiv­er, eyes more than $19B in Covid-19 vac­cine sales in 2021

Moderna is definitively more concerned with keeping pace with Pfizer in the race to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 than it is with Wednesday’s decision from the Biden administration to back an intellectual property waiver that aims to increase vaccine supplies worldwide.

In its first quarter earnings call on Thursday, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel shrugged off any suggestion that the newly US-backed intellectual property waiver would impact his company’s vaccine or bottom line. Still, the company’s stock price fell by about 9% in early morning trading.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

'Chang­ing the whole game of drug dis­cov­ery': Leg­endary R&D vet Roger Perl­mut­ter leaps back in­to work as a biotech CEO

Roger Perlmutter needs no introduction to anyone remotely involved in biopharma. As the R&D chief first at Amgen and then Merck, he’s built a stellar reputation and a prolific career steering new drugs toward the market for everything from cancer to infectious diseases.

But for years, he’s also held a less known title: science partner at The Column Group, where he’s regularly consulted about the various ideas the VCs had for new startups.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ad­comm splits slight­ly in fa­vor of FDA ap­prov­ing Chemo­Cen­tryx’s rare dis­ease drug

The FDA’s Arthritis Advisory Committee on Thursday voted 10 for and 8 against the approval of ChemoCentryx’s $CCXI investigational drug avacopan as a treatment for adults with a rare and serious disease known as anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (ANCA)-vasculitis.

The vote on whether the FDA should approve the drug was preceded by a split vote of 9 to 9 on whether the efficacy data support approval, and 10 to 8 that the safety profile of avacopan is adequate enough to support approval.

Paul Hastings, Nkarta CEO

With no up­front pay­ment or mile­stones on the line, Nkar­ta and CRISPR join forces on CAR-NK search

Most deals in biotech come with hefty upfront payments attached, and the promise of big biobucks if a program works out. Not this one.

Nkarta has struck what CEO Paul Hastings calls a “real collaboration” with CRISPR Therapeutics to co-develop and commercialize two CAR-NK therapies, in addition to an NK+T program. The duo will split all R&D costs — and any worldwide profits — 50/50, Hastings said.

Brent Saunders (Richard Drew, AP Images)

OcuWho? Star deal­mak­er turned aes­thet­ics czar Brent Saun­ders flips back in­to biotech. But who’s he team­ing up with now?

Brent Saunders went on a tear of headline-blazing deals building Allergan, merging and rearranging a variety of big companies into one before an M&A pact with Pfizer blew up and sent him on a bout of biotech drug deals. That didn’t work so well, so under pressure, he got his buyout at AbbVie — which needed a big franchise like Botox. And it was no big surprise to see him riding the SPAC wave into a recent $1 billion-plus deal that left him in the executive chairman’s seat at an aesthetics outfit — now redubbed The Beauty Health Company — holding a big chunk of the equity.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Drug pric­ing watch­dog joins the cho­rus of crit­ics on Bio­gen's ad­u­canum­ab: What about charg­ing $2,560 per year?

As if Biogen’s aducanumab isn’t controversial enough, the researchers at drug pricing watchdog ICER have drawn up the contours of a new debate: If the therapy does get approved for Alzheimer’s by June, what price should it command?

Their answer: At most $8,290 per year — and perhaps as little as $2,560.

Even at the top of the range, the proposed price is a fraction of the $50,000 that Wall Street has reportedly come to expect (although RBC analyst Brian Abrahams puts the consensus figure at $11.5K). With critics, including experts on the FDA’s advisory committee, making their fierce opposition to aducanumab’s approval loud and clear, the pricing pressure adds one extra wrinkle Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos doesn’t need as he orders full-steam preparation for a launch.

Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion backs a po­lar­iz­ing pro­pos­al to waive IP for all Covid-19 vac­cines

In a surprise U-turn, the Biden administration said Wednesday that it will support a proposal at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines.

The proposal, backed by South Africa and India at the WTO, seeks to help developing countries with limited vaccine supplies. The US and Europe historically opposed the proposal, saying IP should be protected because it incentivizes new drug and vaccine development.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.