Leena Gand­hi steps out of Keytru­da spot­light and in­to a top re­search job at I/O lag­gard Eli Lil­ly

Two weeks ago, Leena Gand­hi was in the spot­light at AACR with the lat­est land­mark da­ta on Mer­ck’s Keytru­da/chemo com­bo for front­line lung can­cer. That pack­age end­ed up out­shin­ing a ri­val play from Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb as Mer­ck con­tin­ued to con­sol­i­date its lead po­si­tion in the field. 

To­day, we find out that Gand­hi, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Perl­mut­ter Can­cer Cen­ter at NYU Lan­gone Health and a Dana-Far­ber vet, has been re­cruit­ed by none oth­er than Eli Lil­ly to head up its im­muno-on­col­o­gy re­search work. Or per­haps, more to the point, the I/O work that Lil­ly plans to get start­ed on. And she’s the lat­est in a se­ries of new hires that points to Lil­ly’s brew­ing in­ter­est in forg­ing new on­col­o­gy deals.

Dan Skovron­sky

As of now, Lil­ly has been large­ly by­passed on the glob­al I/O su­per high­way as it pairs up its tar­get­ed can­cer agents with the lead play­ers. But in its Q1 call a few days ago, new R&D chief Dan Skovron­sky and the ex­ec­u­tive team made it clear that the com­pa­ny is prepar­ing to hatch some I/O deals to beef up its can­cer drug pipeline. And Gand­hi is clear­ly cen­tral to that process.

“(W)e need to be ac­tive ex­ter­nal­ly and you can count us,” said CEO Dave Ricks. 

Sue Ma­ho­ny

Lil­ly has a rep as a fair­ly re­li­able big phar­ma drug de­vel­op­er, field­ing a string of new drugs in re­cent years. It’s made a huge in­vest­ment in­to Alzheimer’s dis­ease, with noth­ing to show for it. And while em­i­nent­ly re­li­able on the da­ta, a big plus for di­a­betes R&D, Lil­ly’s de­vel­op­ment group has been a slow and pon­der­ous per­former, of­ten late to every big new mar­ket­ing niche it tries to tack­le.

These new re­searchers will be charged with chang­ing that rep.

“We men­tioned we’ve on-board­ed two physi­cians re­cent­ly, one from Duke and the oth­er from the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing and you will see us con­tin­u­ing to bring­ing more ex­ter­nal tal­ent,” said Eli Lil­ly on­col­o­gy chief Sue Ma­ho­ny dur­ing the call, high­light­ing the ar­rival of Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter’s Mau­ra Dick­ler, re­cruit­ed as Lil­ly’s new VP of late-phase de­vel­op­ment in on­col­o­gy.

Gand­hi ar­rives at Lil­ly June 25.


Im­age: Leena Gand­hi. NYU LAN­GONE HEALTH

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Israel Lowy (Regeneron)

#ES­MO20: 'As good as any PD-1 out there': Re­gen­eron flash­es PD-(L)1 lung can­cer da­ta to ri­val Mer­ck

Regeneron entered the PD-(L)1 game late, so they devised a two-pronged strategy to catch up with Big Pharma rivals: They would push it into cancers where PD-1s had yet been tested, and they would prove that it’s as powerful in the big indications as any other on the market.

They cleared a hurdle on the first goal Friday, showing a 31% response in patients with the rare skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. And with the data they’re rolling out Monday, Regeneron cancer chief Israel Lowy is ready to declare success on the second.

Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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As­traZeneca pub­lish­es Covid-19 vac­cine PhI­II pro­to­cols in lock­step with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er. How are they dif­fer­ent?

Following in the steps of Moderna and Pfizer, the other two American drugmakers currently in Phase III trials for their Covid-19 vaccines, AstraZeneca posted its own study protocols over the weekend. The move is the latest in a series of rare peeks behind the curtain, as such blueprints are typically shared once such trials are completed.

“Given the unprecedented global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for public information, AstraZeneca has published the detailed protocol and design of our AZD1222 clinical trial. As with most clinical development, protocols are not typically shared publicly due to the importance of maintaining confidentiality and integrity of trials. AstraZeneca continues to work with industry peers to ensure a consistent approach to sharing timely clinical trial information,” the company said in a statement.

Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: #ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Sebastian Nijman (file photo)

Roche looks to ge­net­ic mod­i­fiers for new drug tar­gets, team­ing up with Dutch biotech in $375M deal

Roche is gambling on a new way of discovering drug targets and, ultimately, promising to infuse more than $375 million into a small biotech if all goes well.

A spinout of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Oxford University, Scenic Biotech set out to pioneer a field that’s gaining some traction among top VCs in the US: to harness the natural protecting powers of genetic modifiers — specific genes that suppress a disease phenotype.

Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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#ES­MO20: Out to beat Tagris­so, J&J touts 100% ORR for EGFR bis­pe­cif­ic/TKI com­bo — fu­el­ing a quick leap to PhI­II

J&J’s one-two punch on EGFR-mutant non-small cell lung cancer has turned up some promising — although decidedly early — results, fueling the idea that there’s yet room to one up on third-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Twenty out of 20 advanced NSCLC patients had a response after taking a combination of an in-house TKI dubbed lazertinib and amivantamab, a bispecific antibody targeting both EGFR and cMET engineered on partner Genmab’s platform, J&J reported at ESMO. All were treatment-naïve, and none has seen their cancer progress at a median follow-up of seven months.