Let's talk AI: Top R&D ex­ecs tack­le where we are and where we're head­ed with this cru­cial new tech­nol­o­gy

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll at the US-Chi­na Bio­phar­ma In­no­va­tion and In­vest­ment Sum­mit in Shang­hai on Oc­to­ber 23, 2018; Cred­it: End­points News, Pharm­Cube

As a biotech ex­ec with a back­ground in com­pu­ta­tion­al chem­istry, Rosana Kapeller has been watch­ing the hub­bub over ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing in bio­phar­ma play out with a con­sid­er­able de­gree of skep­ti­cism.

“Peo­ple talk about ML and AI with­out know­ing what they are talk­ing about,” the out­spo­ken Nim­bus alum told me ear­li­er in the week. And there are some big pit­falls the unini­ti­at­ed are like­ly to drop in­to with­out warn­ing if they fol­low the crowd in­to AI with­out think­ing things through first. 

Now at Google’s GV as an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence tak­ing a spe­cial­ist ap­proach to com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­nolo­gies, Kapeller has a lot of re­spect for Stan­ford AI star Daphne Koller, who’s dived in­to the com­plex task of draw­ing her own map to fol­low when it comes to us­ing AI in R&D. And she won­ders where oth­ers with­out Koller’s back­ground will wind up if they start us­ing AI and ML in par­tic­u­lar fields where the da­ta are lack­ing.

That’s the back­drop to a con­ver­sa­tion I’ve long looked for­ward to. 

Rosana Kapeller GV

Next Tues­day in Philadel­phia dur­ing the an­nu­al BIO con­fab, Kapeller and a num­ber of top ex­ecs from some of the biggest play­ers in the in­dus­try will join me to dis­cuss how they’re us­ing AI and ML right now. In every case, these are large­ly new ef­forts where bio­phar­mas are look­ing to this tech­nol­o­gy to im­prove their odds of suc­cess — which I think most every­one in R&D would agree are pret­ty poor. And con­trary to what you may as­sume, there’s a very prac­ti­cal at­ti­tude about what they can do and what they can’t, and how they be­lieve this field will evolve over the next 4-5 years.

Daphne Koller Twit­ter

The rest of the line­up for next week’s dis­cus­sion looks like this: GSK’s Tony Wood, Saurabh Sa­ha at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, Hugo Ceule­mans from J&J, Badhri Srini­vasan at No­var­tis and Shoibal Dat­ta, a Bio­gen vet now at PPD.

I hope you can join us for this event and con­tribute your own thoughts and ques­tions. You can get tick­ets here. 


Im­age: John Car­roll

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

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Large advertisements for the drug Vivitrol decorate the walls of Grand Central Station on June 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty)

FDA slaps down Alk­er­mes for mis­lead­ing Viv­it­rol ads — don't for­get vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to opi­oid over­dose

The ads piqued interest as soon as they started appearing in 2016: at Grand Central Station, on the Red Line in Cambridge, and on a billboard off the New Jersey Turnpike. All showed a young person, generally with his or her arms crossed, and the question, “what is Vivitrol?”

Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, was in the midst of a marketing and lobbying campaign to promote the anti-opioid addiction drug — a campaign that would face significant backlash for tarnishing competitors despite little evidence for Vivitrol’s superiority.

FDA in-house re­view spot­lights an is­sue with one of Hori­zon's end­points but notes ef­fi­ca­cy for lead drug

The FDA in-house review highlights a disagreement of investigators’ use of a key endpoint by Horizon Pharma in the late-stage trial for the top drug in its pipeline, but largely agreed that the antibody was effective.

Horizon submitted a BLA for thyroid eye disease (TED) drug teprotumumab in March, less than two years after they bought the drug (and the rest of a division) from Narrow River for $145 million upfront. With breakthrough status, priority review, orphan designation and in-house sales projections of up to $750 million, the one-time Roche reject became the marquee pipeline asset for a company that’s developed some of the world’s most expensive drugs.

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics de­tails pos­i­tive OS and PFS da­ta for tu­ca­tinib in breast can­cer

Seattle Genetics $SGEN is showing off more positive data around tucatinib, its pivotal-stage drug for HER2 positive breast cancer.

A month after hearing about solidly upbeat hazard ratios, we learned today that the estimated progression-free survival rate at one year was 33% in the tucatinib arm compared to 12% for patients taking trastuzumab and capecitabine alone.

Median PFS was 7.8 months (95% CI: 7.5, 9.6) in the tucatinib arm, compared to 5.6 months (95% CI: 4.2, 7.1) in the control arm.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Bat­tered, cash hun­gry In­tec feels the burn of No­var­tis re­jec­tion

It’s a case of some bad timing for Intec.

Just when a key trial testing the company’s Accordion drug delivery tech imploded in Parkinson’s disease, they handed Novartis data from a successful PK study of a custom Accordion pill engineered to deliver a Novartis compound to entice the Swiss drugmaker into signing a licensing agreement.

Novartis said thanks, but no thanks.

For the cash-strapped Israeli drug developer, the failure to clinch the deal marks a big blow. As of the third quarter, the company has $15.7 million in cash and equivalents, which HC Wainwright analysts estimate will keep the lights on into mid-2020.

Bris­tol-My­ers shows off a low-pro­file AML con­tender it gained from Cel­gene buy­out — and they’re tak­ing it straight to the FDA

Bristol-Myers Squibb reaped an enormous pipeline with its much-criticized $64 billion megadeal to buy Celgene. And it got a few hidden gems in the deal.

One of those gems was brought out for display on Tuesday, with a late-breaker at ASH on CC-486, which is now being prepped for regulatory filings at the FDA and elsewhere.

Celgene top-lined the positive results in a maintenance setting for acute myeloid leukemia a few months ago, but at ASH investigators pulled back the curtains on the all-important data they believe will give them an advantage in the commercial wars to come.

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