Dana-Far­ber, MD An­der­son, MIT im­pose trav­el re­stric­tions amid broad­er ef­forts to con­tain coro­n­avirus dam­age in US

As the new coro­n­avirus spreads to more states in the US out­side Wash­ing­ton, so have the re­ac­tions.

MIT is ban­ning all in­ter­na­tion­al busi­ness trav­els for stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, post­doc and staff for two months, while urg­ing them to weigh whether do­mes­tic trips are es­sen­tial. All in-per­son uni­ver­si­ty-af­fil­i­at­ed events with more than 150 at­ten­dees that will take place be­tween now and May 15 must be post­poned, can­celed or vir­tu­al­ized.

MD An­der­son in Hous­ton and Dana-Far­ber in Boston have both sus­pend­ed all pro­fes­sion­al trav­el and cau­tioned against per­son­al trav­el.

“Our can­cer pa­tients are unique­ly vul­ner­a­ble to coro­n­avirus. For this rea­son, we are com­mit­ting to in­creased work­force pre­cau­tions,” Pe­ter Pis­ters, pres­i­dent of MD An­der­son, said in state­ment, in which the in­sti­tute al­so en­cour­aged use of re­mote meet­ings.

Con­firm­ing the new pol­i­cy to End­points News, a Dana-Far­ber spokesper­son added, “While we rec­og­nize this is a sig­nif­i­cant in­con­ve­nience, our pri­or­i­ty re­mains the health and safe­ty of our work­force, and the health and safe­ty of our pa­tients.”

Such moves could put pres­sure on con­fer­ence hosts such as the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Can­cer Re­search.

“We were re­cent­ly made aware that sev­er­al stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing can­cer cen­ters, aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions, and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, are con­sid­er­ing or have in­sti­tut­ed tem­po­rary trav­el re­stric­tions that, if un­changed, would pre­vent their em­ploy­ees from at­tend­ing or pre­sent­ing at the An­nu­al Meet­ing,” the AACR not­ed in a state­ment Thurs­day.

The cur­rent plan is to go ahead with the gath­er­ing, sched­uled to take place in San Diego April 24-29. The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Clin­i­cal On­col­o­gy, which hosts an­oth­er high-pro­file can­cer meet­ing planned for late May, has adopt­ed a sim­i­lar wait-and-see ap­proach.

Oth­er or­ga­niz­ers have can­celed their gath­er­ings sched­uled for this month. The Health­care In­for­ma­tion and Man­age­ment Sys­tems So­ci­ety was the lat­est to can­cel its an­nu­al con­fab, which would have drawn up­wards of 40,000 at­ten­dees to Or­lan­do on March 9. The Na­tion­al Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Net­work, which had a con­fer­ence planned for 10 days lat­er in the same city, is post­pon­ing.

Mean­while in Eu­rope, the British ex­hi­bi­tions group In­for­ma has an­nounced that its up­com­ing BIO-Eu­rope Spring is go­ing all on­line.

“A sit­u­a­tion out of our con­trol is pre­vent­ing us from do­ing busi­ness in a face-to-face en­vi­ron­ment, so we’ve come to­geth­er to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion,” a state­ment read. “We will now be de­liv­er­ing BIO-Eu­rope Spring as a ful­ly dig­i­tal event, of­fer­ing vir­tu­al part­ner­ing, on­line com­pa­ny pre­sen­ta­tions, pre-record­ed pan­els and a vir­tu­al ex­hib­it. The dig­i­tal event will take place March 23–27, 2020.”

The BIO Asia con­fer­ence — or­ga­nized by the US trade group and orig­i­nal­ly slat­ed for March 10-11 in Tokyo — has been can­celled; BIO has yet to make a de­ci­sion about its main San Diego con­ven­tion in June.

Back state­side, MIT is call­ing off its “sig­na­ture se­mes­ter con­fer­ences and cel­e­bra­tions,” in­clud­ing the MIT Ex­cel­lence Awards. It’s al­so de­vel­op­ing op­tions for on­line in­struc­tion should that be­come need­ed.

“For our cam­pus com­mu­ni­ty, the cur­rent risk lev­el as­so­ci­at­ed with COVID-19 is low,” MIT pres­i­dent Rafael Reif wrote in his let­ter to the uni­ver­si­ty. “How­ev­er, glob­al hotspots shift, and the con­ta­gion pat­tern is not well un­der­stood. With that un­cer­tain­ty, we need to make pru­dent choic­es to pro­tect the health of our own com­mu­ni­ty and the broad­er com­mu­ni­ties we be­long to, with­out cre­at­ing un­nec­es­sary dis­rup­tions to the nor­mal pur­suit of our ed­u­ca­tion­al and re­search mis­sion.”

While Mass­a­chu­setts has on­ly re­port­ed two covid-19 cas­es, Bio­gen dis­closed late Thurs­day that three of its em­ploy­ees (re­sid­ing in the US and oth­er parts of the US) test­ed pos­i­tive for SARS-CoV-2 af­ter at­tend­ing a meet­ing in Boston.

A host of or­ga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try are tak­ing pre­cau­tions against a brew­ing epi­dem­ic of covid-19. The most dras­tic mea­sures, though, ap­pear to be con­cen­trat­ed in the state of Wash­ing­ton, which has seen the largest clus­ter of cas­es at 44. Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Cen­ter, home to the re­searcher who warned of pos­si­bly hun­dreds of un­re­port­ed ac­tive in­fec­tions in the state, adopt­ed a manda­to­ry work-from-home pol­i­cy ear­li­er this week along­side Seat­tle-based tech gi­ants.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Dif­fu­sion to hand Nas­daq spot to EIP Phar­ma for PhI­Ib de­men­tia study of ex-Ver­tex drug

One of the more than a dozen bidders for Diffusion Pharmaceuticals’ spot on Nasdaq has prevailed.

Boston biotech EIP Pharma will merge with Diffusion in an all-stock deal, with plans to start a Phase IIb clinical trial in the coming months in a common form of dementia with no approved treatments. The combined company will be renamed CervoMed.

The nine-year-old privately-held EIP is working on a former Vertex drug that it will test in a 160-person Phase IIb in patients with dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB. The National Institute on Aging is expected to fund that trial with a $21 million grant. With the reverse merger, slated for closing in the middle of this year, EIP will be funded through that readout in the second half of 2024. EIP’s equity and debt holders will own about 77.25% of the combined company.

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Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Boehringer re­ports ro­bust sales led by type 2 di­a­betes and pul­monary drugs, promis­es more to come high­light­ing obe­si­ty

Boehringer Ingelheim reported human pharma sales of €18.5 billion on Wednesday, led by type 2 diabetes and heart failure drug Jardiance and pulmonary fibrosis med Ofev. Jardiance sales reached €5.8 billion, growing 39% year over year, while Ofev took in €3.2 billion, notching its own 20.6% annual jump.

However, Boehringer is also looking ahead with its pipeline, estimating “In the next seven years the company expects about 20 regulatory approvals in human pharma.”

Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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See­los Ther­a­peu­tics 'tem­porar­i­ly' stops study in rare neu­ro dis­or­der for busi­ness rea­sons

Microcap biotech Seelos Therapeutics is halting enrollment of its study in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (also known as Machado-Joseph disease) because of “financial considerations,” and in order to focus on other studies, the company said today, adding that the pause would be temporary.

The study will continue with the patients who have already enrolled, and the data from them will be used to decide whether to continue enrolling others in the future.