Thomas Gajewski, David Steinberg. (CRI, Pyxis)

Bay­er, Long­wood back star re­searcher's deep dive in­to the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment for new I/O tar­gets

From PD-1 tar­get­ing to the RAS path­way to the STING com­plex, Thomas Gajew­s­ki has spent the past two decades of his ca­reer de­cod­ing the var­i­ous ways the im­mune sys­tem can be un­leashed to de­fend against can­cer. So when the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go pro­fes­sor comes around to putting all his find­ings in­to a new plat­form for find­ing new tar­gets, VCs and phar­ma groups alike pay at­ten­tion.

“He’s been study­ing T cells for 20 years, plus he’s one of the world’s lead­ers if not the world leader in the space,” David Stein­berg, part­ner at Long­wood Fund, said. “Fur­ther­more, let me add he did a lot of the foun­da­tion­al re­search and al­so some of the sem­i­nal clin­i­cal tri­als in the ex­ist­ing set of I/O agents. He un­der­stands the space re­al­ly well, he un­der­stands the cur­rent strengths, and I think he un­der­stood re­al­ly well what was miss­ing, so he knew where to look.”

Long­wood is launch­ing Pyx­is On­col­o­gy with Gajew­s­ki and John Flavin, a sea­soned life sci­ences en­tre­pre­neur and for­mer ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist him­self. The ini­tial Se­ries A comes in at $22 mil­lion; Leaps by Bay­er took the lead­ing role while Agent Cap­i­tal and Ipsen chipped in.

As can be ex­pect­ed from a start­up that’s rapid­ly beef­ing up its op­er­a­tions and so­lid­i­fy­ing its IP foun­da­tion, Stein­berg, the CEO, is tight-lipped about the ex­act na­ture of their work ex­cept that they are brand new tar­gets that, to the best of their knowl­edge, are not in any dis­closed clin­i­cal pipelines any­where.

By ex­am­in­ing the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, he added, Gajew­s­ki had been able to iden­ti­fy new bi­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­na me­di­at­ing the ac­tion be­tween the tu­mor and the T cell — po­ten­tial­ly un­lock­ing a sec­ond lev­el of T cell in­hi­bi­tion by can­cer.

Jak Knowles Bay­er

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Bay­er jumped right on board, VP of ven­ture in­vest­ments Jak Knowles said.

Hav­ing on­ly first met with Stein­berg in April, “this is ac­tu­al­ly, I think, the deal that we’ve closed the fastest since Leaps’ ex­is­tence,” he told me.

While Pyx­is is start­ing out on the tried and true path of an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment, he be­lieves it can be­come an even big­ger play in the I/O field by find­ing the next tar­get for a T cell or NK cell-based ther­a­py.

But it’s still ear­ly days, and both the com­pa­ny and the syn­di­cate are clear­ly tak­ing it step by step. Pyx­is now has more board mem­bers and sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­sors than staffers, but Stein­berg plans to bal­ance that out by ramp­ing up to 15 to 20.

The SAB com­pris­es:

  • Michael Atkins, Deputy Di­rec­tor of the George­town-Lom­bar­di Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter and the Scholl Pro­fes­sor and Vice-Chair of the De­part­ment of On­col­o­gy at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine.
  • Lisa But­ter­field, VP of the Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py and Ad­junct Pro­fes­sor of Mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gy and Im­munol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co.
  • Alan Ko­r­man, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Hu­man Im­munol­o­gy at Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy and For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent of Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Dis­cov­ery at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb.
  • Ja­son Luke, As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine and Di­rec­tor of the Can­cer Im­munother­a­peu­tics Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh School of Med­i­cine.

Mean­while, Knowles and his Bay­er col­league Lu­cio Ian­none will serve on the board, chaired by Flavin, to ad­vise on po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tions and com­bos.

“Part of the rea­son we were ex­cit­ed to work with both Bay­er and Ipsen on this is be­cause it’s sort of re­in­force­ment of the in­ter­est and ex­cite­ment about these kinds of ap­proach­es from with­in the phar­ma in­dus­try,” Stein­berg said.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

BeiGene and Mus­tang nail down spe­cial FDA sta­tus for top drugs; Roche bags added cov­er­age for Hem­li­bra

→ BeiGene $BGNE is getting a boost in its drive to field a rival to Imbruvica. The FDA has offered an accelerated review to zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor that has posted positive results for mantle cell lymphoma. The PDUFA date lands on February 27, 2020. The drug scored breakthrough status at the beginning of the year.

→ BeiGene isn’t the only biopharma company to gain special regulatory status today. Mustang Bio $MBIO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that MB-107, a lentiviral gene therapy for the treatment of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease, has been granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy status.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vives bid to get drug list prices on TV ads

The Trump administration is not giving up just yet. On Wednesday, the HHS filed an appeal against a judge’s decision in July to overturn a ruling obligating drug manufacturers to disclose the list price of their therapies in television adverts — hours before it was stipulated to go into effect.

In May, the HHS published a final ruling requiring drugmakers to divulge the wholesale acquisition cost— of a 30-day supply of the drug — in tv ads in a bid to enhance price transparency in the United States. The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed the rule, asserting that list prices are not what a typical patient in the United States pays for treatment — that number is typically determined by the type of (or lack thereof) insurance coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Although there is truth to that claim, the move was considered symbolic in the Trump administration’s healthcare agenda to hold drugmakers accountable in a climate where skyrocketing drug prices have incensed Americans on both sides of the aisle.

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll