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.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Caught in a stand­off with its con­tract man­u­fac­tur­er over Covid-19 vac­cine, In­ovio files suit in an at­tempt to break free while ri­vals race ahead

Inovio was one of the first vaccine developers to snag attention for a jab that their execs said promised to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Using their own unique DNA tech, CEO Joseph Kim said it took just 3 hours to work it out.

But while rivals are racing to the finish line with ambitious plans to make vast quantities of their vaccines with billions of dollars of deals, Inovio is still stuck at the starting line on manufacturing.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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