Look­ing for first-in-class glo­ry, Boehringer In­gel­heim ac­quires two pre­clin­i­cal can­cer drugs from Ver­sant-backed biotech

Wad­ing deep­er in­to the next wave of im­muno-on­col­o­gy, Boehringer In­gel­heim has bought up a Ver­sant-launched pre­clin­i­cal pipeline fo­cused on the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.

Phil Vick­ers

The ac­qui­si­tion of North­ern Bi­o­log­ics — a sub­sidiary of the Toron­to-based biotech North­ern LP — po­si­tions Boehringer at the fore­front of the stro­mal bi­ol­o­gy space, the com­pa­ny said. North­ern Bi­o­log­ics will con­tin­ue plow­ing on the pre­clin­i­cal front un­til the Ger­man phar­ma takes over the clin­i­cal, reg­u­la­to­ry and com­mer­cial work.

The deal terms weren’t dis­closed. North­ern CEO Phil Vick­ers — who jumped to the role from Shire — said it would ac­cel­er­ate the clin­i­cal en­try of both pro­grams.

Jonathon Sedg­wick

What unites the two ac­quired pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to Jonathon Sedg­wick, Boehringer’s glob­al head of can­cer im­munol­o­gy and im­mune mod­u­la­tion re­search, is that they tar­get “cold” tu­mors. Un­like their “hot” coun­ter­parts, these tu­mors aren’t sus­cep­ti­ble to at­tacks from the im­mune sys­tem — ren­der­ing them tough to treat with tra­di­tion­al check­point drugs that fo­cus on un­leash­ing im­mune cells.

The first pro­gram is an an­ti­body that in­hibits pe­riostin, a se­cret­ed pro­tein found in abun­dance in the stro­ma of cer­tain sol­id tu­mors. As re­search sug­gests that these cells play a role in im­mune ex­clu­sion and sup­pres­sion, the hope is that hit­ting some­thing found in the ex­tra­cel­lu­lar ma­trix can al­ter the can­cer it­self.

The sec­ond pro­gram, mean­while, tar­gets an un­named reg­u­la­tor of myeloid cells — an area Boehringer has ex­plored in a pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion with OSE Im­munother­a­peu­tics — which it says can en­hance T cell func­tion.

Where­as the com­pa­ny has tend­ed to be a fast fol­low­er of R&D trends, un­veil­ing projects on hot tar­gets like KRAS and CD47 af­ter the fron­trun­ners have made their mark, Boehringer is keen to be first in class here.

For North­ern and Ver­sant, which launched the biotech in 2014, it’s an­oth­er ring­ing en­dorse­ment for the sci­ence emerg­ing out of Toron­to’s MaRS Dis­cov­ery Dis­trict, fol­low­ing Bay­er’s $600 mil­lion buy­out of Blue­Rock last Au­gust.

The sci­en­tists there will al­so con­tin­ue to work on North­ern Bi­o­log­ics’ MSC-1, a Phase I an­ti-LIF1 an­ti­body it has re­tained rights to.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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As­traZeneca touts Imfinzi im­munother­a­py com­bos for lung can­cer in push to dri­ve PD-L1 drug up­take

Facing the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 space, AstraZeneca has taken its own contender Imfinzi into blockbuster territory in its four years on the market but sees even bigger things for the drug. Combinations could be the key, and early results from a mid-stage test are adding some fuel to that strategy.

Imfinzi combined with one of two investigational immunotherapies — a CD73 antibody dubbed oleclumab or an anti-NGK2a named monalizumab — topped Imfinzi alone in terms of overall response and progression-free survival in patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors had not worsened during concurrent chemoradiation, according to interim data from the Phase II COAST trial set to be presented at #ESMO21.

Amgen VP of R&D David Reese

Am­gen rolls out da­ta for KRAS in­hibitor com­bo study in col­orec­tal can­cer, hop­ing to move on from ug­ly ear­ly re­sults

With the first win for its KRAS inhibitor sotorasib in hand, Amgen is pushing ahead with an aggressive clinical plan to capitalize on its first-to-market standing. The drugmaker thinks combinations — in-house or otherwise — could offer a path forward, and one early readout from that strategy is bearing fruit.

A combination of Amgen’s sotorasib and its EGFR inhibitor Vectibix posted an overall response rate of 27% in 26 patients with advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) with the KRAS-G12C mutation, according to data from the larger Phase Ib/II CODEBREAK 101 study set to present at this weekend’s virtual ESMO Congress.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Eu­ro­pean study finds that Gilead­'s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir shows no clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Gilead’s remdesivir — or Veklury, as it’s marketed in the US — raked in around $2.8 billion last year as the only FDA-approved antiviral to treat Covid-19. But new data from a European study suggest the drug, which has been given to about half of hospitalized Covid patients in the country, has no actual benefit.

The open-label DisCoVeRy trial enrolled Covid-19 patients across 48 sites in Europe to test a handful of treatments, including remdesivir, lopinavir–ritonavir, lopinavir–ritonavir and interferon beta-1a, and hydroxychloroquine. To participate, patients had to show symptoms for seven days and require oxygen support. A total of 429 patients were randomized to receive remdesivir plus standard of care, while 428 were assigned to standard of care alone.

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Gri­fols drops $1B on Ger­man hold­ing com­pa­ny in con­tin­ued plas­ma push

One Spanish biotech is beefing up its plasma therapy operations, and on Friday, it announced that it’s doing so in a billion-dollar deal.

Grifols is now the largest shareholder of Biotest, a company valued at more than $1.8 billion. By teaming up, the two will try to increase the number of plasma therapies available and increase patient access around the world, Grifols said in a press release.

The company did so by acquiring holding company Tiancheng Pharmaceutical, the Germany-based owner of nearly 90% of Biotest shares, for nearly $1.27 billion. Grifols now owns nearly 90% of Biotest voting rights and almost 45% of the total share capital of Biotest.

Covid-19 roundup: FDA re­veals boost­er ad­comm ques­tion; Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cock­tail cleared for pre­ven­tion

The FDA released briefing documents this week from the agency and Pfizer each outlining their arguments for today’s Covid-19 booster shot adcomm, but one thing conspicuously missing was the question on which panel members would be voting. But late Thursday night, regulators published that question.

Adcomm members will be asked whether or not the safety and efficacy data from Pfizer/BioNTech’s original Phase III study “support approval” of a booster shot at least six months after the second dose in individuals older than 16. The question notably excludes the real-world data from Israel and other analyses that Pfizer and the Biden administration had said would be a centerpiece of their arguments for boosters.

A Pfiz­er part­ner wel­comes ex-ADC Ther­a­peu­tics CMO Jay Fein­gold to the team; Amid tough sled­ding, Im­muno­vant choos­es Eli Lil­ly alum as CFO

→ Last week we told you about the CMO revolving door at ADC Therapeutics, as Joseph Camardo replaced the departing Jay Feingold. The next opportunity for Feingold in the CMO slot has opened up at antibody-drug conjugate and mAb developer Pyxis Oncology, which has added several new execs and scientific advisory board members in recent months, including ex-Immunovant CFO Pamela Yanchik Connealy. Before his tenure at ADC, Feingold was Daiichi Sankyo’s VP of US medical affairs and chairman of the Global Medical Affairs Oversight Committee. Within weeks in March, Pyxis struck a licensing deal with Pfizer for two of its ADCs and raked in $152 million from a Series B round.

No­vo Nordisk Foun­da­tion tees up $47.5M to ex­plore the dri­vers of ge­net­ic dis­ease with the Broad In­sti­tute

The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT played a significant role in mapping out genes as part of the Human Genome Project about two decades ago. Now, it’s joining forces with one of the industry’s largest research foundations in an effort to translate those maps.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation, which operates independently from the biotech Novo Nordisk, is teeing up $47.5 million to work with the Broad on mining genetic data in the hopes of better understanding how variants drive disease.