Danny Yeung, Prenetics CEO

Mak­ing a name for it­self in Covid-19 test­ing, Hong Kong's Pre­net­ics is the lat­est biotech SPAC merg­er — re­port

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A Hong Kong biotech re­search­ing ge­net­ic se­quenc­ing and de­vel­op­ing rapid Covid-19 tests is re­port­ed­ly set to be­come the first bil­lion-dol­lar start­up in the city to go pub­lic.

Pre­net­ics will hop on­to Nas­daq through a SPAC, CN­BC re­port­ed ear­ly Thurs­day, in a deal that will val­ue the biotech at $1.3 bil­lion. Found­ed by en­tre­pre­neur Dan­ny Ye­ung, Pre­net­ics will re­verse merge with the SPAC Ar­ti­san Ac­qui­si­tion, which comes from the CEO of the Hong Kong con­glom­er­ate New World De­vel­op­ment.

In the deal, Pre­net­ics will get the $339 mil­lion raised in the SPAC, as well as an­oth­er $60 mil­lion in PIPE fi­nanc­ing. The merg­er is ex­pect­ed to be com­plet­ed by the end of 2021, CN­BC re­port­ed.

Pre­net­ics could not be reached for com­ment. News of the deal came from an anony­mous CN­BC source, who re­quest­ed not to be named to dis­cuss the in­for­ma­tion pub­licly.

SPAC ac­tiv­i­ty has slowed down sig­nif­i­cant­ly since the first quar­ter of the year, but the blank check com­pa­nies have still steered more than $15 bil­lion to the biotech sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to the End­points News tal­ly.

The biotech has gar­nered sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic­i­ty since the start of the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic thanks to its test­ing kits. Ye­ung, who serves as the CEO, has pre­vi­ous­ly boast­ed that Pre­net­ics’ Covid-19 kits are com­pa­ra­ble in ac­cu­ra­cy to lab-based PCR tests, bet­ter than anti­gen test­ing and can re­turn re­sults in 30 min­utes.

Their tests, de­vel­oped by Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford re­searchers, use a tech­nique in­volv­ing loop-me­di­at­ed isother­mal am­pli­fi­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to a CN­BC re­port from No­vem­ber.

Ear­li­er in the pan­dem­ic, Pre­net­ics dis­trib­uted tests in Hong Kong’s air­port and soon moved to Lon­don’s Heathrow Air­port. It’s re­port­ed­ly in dis­cus­sions with oth­er gov­ern­ments to ex­pand test­ing to oth­er air­ports.

The biotech al­so runs op­er­a­tions in the UK and worked with Britain’s top soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tion, the Eng­lish Pre­mier League, to restart their sea­son af­ter it had been sus­pend­ed in March 2020. It’s fur­ther de­vel­op­ing Covid-19 test­ing pods that it hopes to de­ploy out­side of­fice spaces in or­der to help busi­ness­es bring work­ers back from home full-time, ac­cord­ing to The Guardian.

Pre­net­ics’ plan is to set up the pods in park­ing lots near the build­ings and have in­di­vid­u­als sched­ule tests on­line be­fore they come to work. They’d then take the tests pri­or to en­ter­ing the of­fice. Pre­net­ics pods have al­ready be­gun pop­ping up around the UK, and the com­pa­ny is charg­ing up to about $150 per test in the coun­try.

Ye­ung has a his­to­ry of se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neurism, hav­ing launched sev­er­al star­tups in the past. In 2010, his on­line bulk-buy­ing web­site uBuy­iBuy was ac­quired by Groupon for an undis­closed amount, and he’s al­so fran­chised a Hong Kong dessert chain in­to the US.

He ul­ti­mate­ly left Groupon in 2014, but over­saw a con­tro­ver­sy in 2011 where his Hong Kong branch ran a com­mer­cial par­o­dy­ing celebri­ty pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments, per a re­port from the South Chi­na Morn­ing Post. The ad re­port­ed­ly sug­gest­ed that de­spite Ti­bet’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence, cus­tomers could still bar­gain-hunt at lo­cal restau­rants.

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.

Wen Wang, IASO CEO

Chi­nese CAR-T play­er books a megaround to dri­ve bustling cell ther­a­py port­fo­lio through the clin­ic

China has quickly emerged as a major driver of oncology R&D in recent years, particularly in cell therapies where the potential for cheaper development has investors drooling. Now, one player, with a handful of early data, is swimming in a new round of investor cash.

IASO Bio has closed a $108 million Series C that the Chinese and California-based biotech said it will use to advance its slate of cell therapy lead programs, while also propping up a roster of next-gen allogeneic cell therapies for the future, according to a release.