Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO

Look­ing for the next mR­NA break­through, Mod­er­na taps Ab­Cellera in mys­te­ri­ous an­ti­body dis­cov­ery deal

Mod­er­na’s suc­cess with its Covid-19 vac­cine has bust­ed the dam open on a range of po­ten­tial mR­NA ther­a­peu­tics — and now the biotech is push­ing to keep the cut­ting edge in-house. A new part­ner­ship with stand­out an­ti­body dis­cov­ery out­fit Ab­Cellera could help keep the ball in the com­pe­ti­tion’s court.

Mod­er­na will part­ner with an­ti­body play­er Ab­Cellera on up to six undis­closed tar­gets for a range of mR­NA-en­cod­ed drugs har­vest­ed from Ab­Cellera’s bustling dis­cov­ery plat­form, the com­pa­nies said Wednes­day.

Fi­nan­cial terms of the deal weren’t dis­closed, and the part­ners are stay­ing mum for now on spe­cif­ic tar­gets, but Ab­Cellera CEO Carl Hansen in­di­cat­ed to End­points News the hit list would ex­pand out past in­fec­tious dis­ease, where both com­pa­nies have large­ly fo­cused dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic.

The deal will in­clude undis­closed re­search mile­stones due to Ab­Cellera, with Mod­er­na pick­ing up the de­vel­op­ment costs and Ab­Cellera owed roy­al­ties on the back end.

Ab­Cellera rose to in­ter­na­tion­al fame as part of its col­lab­o­ra­tion with Eli Lil­ly that has churned out mul­ti­ple an­ti­bod­ies for ther­a­peu­tic use against Covid-19. But the dis­cov­ery spe­cial­ist has some 140 projects in the works in and out of in­fec­tious dis­ease, Hansen said, and is look­ing to lever­age an en­gine that Hansen de­scribed as one of the fastest in the in­dus­try across many ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas.

For Mod­er­na, the shift in­to what is known as mR­NA-en­cod­ed an­ti­bod­ies is noth­ing new and an ear­ly fo­cus be­fore the pan­dem­ic shift­ed R&D fo­cus on­to vac­cines. The idea would be to use mR­NA to “man­u­fac­ture” mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies for ther­a­peu­tic use in vi­vo, cut­ting out the ex­pen­sive and in­fra­struc­ture-heavy pro­duc­tion process.

Pair­ing up Mod­er­na, which helped pro­vide proof-of-con­cept for the en­tire field of mR­NA ther­a­peu­tics with its Covid-19 vac­cine, and Ab­Cellera could be a force mul­ti­pli­er in terms of rapid­ly dis­cov­er­ing and de­vel­op­ing an­ti­body ther­a­peu­tics that could be game chang­ers in drug de­vel­op­ment, where mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies cur­rent­ly dom­i­nate.

“For me, one of the ex­cit­ing and big mo­ti­va­tors of this is that Mod­er­na has proven the speed at which you can de­ploy RNA-based vac­cines, and that by all rights should trans­fer well in­to oth­er ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas,” Hansen said.

While de­tails re­main slim on how ex­act­ly this col­lab­o­ra­tion will play out, Hansen said the speed at which Ab­Cellera can turn out can­di­dates and at which Mod­er­na is ca­pa­ble of han­dling pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment could rapid­ly speed the part­ner­ship’s race to the clin­ic. Does that mean years or months? Hansen wouldn’t say, in­stead high­light­ing his ex­cite­ment over the po­ten­tial of both com­pa­nies work­ing to­geth­er.

“If you want­ed to in­vest in one plat­form modal­i­ty out­side of vac­cines that would be broad and have a lot of po­ten­tial, it would be hard to come up with some­thing that would beat an­ti­bod­ies just based on the di­ver­si­ty of tar­gets and the mech­a­nisms of ac­tion,” he said.

The deal is an­oth­er clue on how Mod­er­na — now one of the most high­ly-val­ued phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in the world based in large part on the suc­cess of its Covid-19 vac­cine — could use its post-pan­dem­ic cash wind­fall to set it­self for a fu­ture full of in­no­va­tion.

Part of that plan is, of course, mR­NA and the fu­ture of that tech­nol­o­gy, but Mod­er­na has al­so planned to lean in on gene edit­ing and ge­nomics, an­nounc­ing in Au­gust it would es­tab­lish a “Mod­er­na Ge­nomics” unit to chase down cut­ting-edge ther­a­peu­tics in that space, as our founder John Car­roll out­lined at the time.

Mean­while, Mod­er­na not­ed it was look­ing for small­ish li­cens­ing deals that would com­ple­ment its grow­ing pipeline and this Ab­Cellera pact clear­ly fits the bill. Is this a sign of things to come? We’ll have to wait and see.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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