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

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.