Long­time Sanofi R&D chief Elias Zer­houni is on his way out, hand­ing the re­search reins to Roche vet John Reed

Af­ter 7 years as head of Sanofi R&D, for­mer NIH chief Elias Zer­houni is step­ping down and hand­ing the job to John Reed, who spent the last 5 years run­ning Roche’s pRED re­search group based in Basel.

A spokesper­son for Sanofi tells me that Reed, like Zer­houni, will have of­fices in Cam­bridge, MA and Paris.

John Reed

The change at the top of the Paris-based phar­ma gi­ant’s re­search arm marks the lat­est in a se­ries of switch-ups in the world’s biggest phar­ma R&D or­ga­ni­za­tions, with Hal Bar­ron tak­ing over at Glax­o­SmithK­line, Dan Skovron­sky step­ping up at Eli Lil­ly and John Tsai tak­ing charge of de­vel­op­ment at No­var­tis. 

Dur­ing Zer­houni’s tenure Sanofi lined up a fruit­ful al­liance with Re­gen­eron that de­liv­ered some ma­jor new ther­a­pies, with an­oth­er PD-1 check­point on the way. Sanofi al­so ac­quired Gen­zyme. And Zer­houni fol­lowed up with an im­por­tant al­liance with Al­ny­lam and re­cent ac­qui­si­tion deals for Biover­atv and Abl­ynx. But Sanofi’s own R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion has been slow and in­ef­fec­tive in mak­ing much head­way in drug de­vel­op­ment, though Zer­houni has in­sist­ed that has been chang­ing as well.

Sanofi spent $6.7 bil­lion on R&D last year, with a 6th place rank­ing among the world’s biggest drug re­search op­er­a­tions.

Reed, who was brought in from San­ford-Burn­ham for the job of fin­ish­ing the over­haul at pRED, has had lit­tle to boast about dur­ing his tenure at Roche, where he re­cent­ly ex­it­ed. Roche has re­lied on Genen­tech — gRED — to pro­duce the com­pa­ny’s new block­busters.

Both Reed and Zer­houni are known as in­flu­en­tial sci­en­tists with a keen un­der­stand­ing of trans­la­tion­al re­search. But they’ve nev­er made the leap to be­come known for mas­ter­ing de­vel­op­ment on their own.

Reed is join­ing Sanofi April 30, two months be­fore Zer­houni leaves Sanofi. 

“John is an ac­com­plished and wide­ly rec­og­nized physi­cian-sci­en­tist with a bril­liant aca­d­e­m­ic track record,” said Sanofi CEO Olivi­er Brandi­court in a state­ment. “He is ex­pe­ri­enced in dri­ving R&D pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, build­ing high-per­form­ing teams and in­te­grat­ing biotech com­pa­nies to pro­vide new tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms.”

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

UCB adds on more pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta for IL-17A/17F in­hibitor bimek­izum­ab, clear­ing a path to the FDA

A month after posting positive top-line data from their first Phase III trial of the IL-17A/17F inhibitor bimekizumab, Belgium’s UCB says they’ve added more upbeat results from their second late-stage test in moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis.

That leaves the company on track for regulatory submissions in the middle of next year, says CMO Iris Loew-Friedrich.
Their drug beat out a placebo on the co-primaries — a 90% improvement in PASI 90 (the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) and Investigator Global Assessment (IGA) response of clear or almost clear (IGA 0/1) at week 16, compared to placebo. Investigators also boasted of hitting some key secondaries.
UCB is angling to enter an increasingly crowded market space.
In their first of 3 Phase III studies for bimekizumab, researchers touted top-line wins on statistically significant results on clearing plaque psoriasis, including a victory over J&J’s IL-23 contender Stelara on key endpoints. The drug targets both IL-17A and IL-17F, a modification on the IL-17A strategy laid out for Taltz (Eli Lilly) and Cosentyx (Novartis). And the new group also includes J&J’s Tremfya and AbbVie’s Skyrizi.

Social image: UCB