President Donald Trump, left, listens as Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mon­cef Slaoui piv­ots from Mod­er­na's board to the helm of Pro­ject Warp Speed. His task: Overnight suc­cess

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

Mon­cef Slaoui stepped off Mod­er­na’s board of di­rec­tors on Fri­day and piv­ot­ed straight in­to the high pro­file role head­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Pro­ject Warp Speed, where he’ll be in charge of ac­cel­er­at­ing Mod­er­na’s — and oth­ers — vac­cines to a rapid re­lease for a pan­dem­ic weary world.

The news be­came of­fi­cial mid-day Fri­day af­ter nu­mer­ous re­ports ear­li­er that he had been picked off the short list of can­di­dates.

Slaoui’s role on Mod­er­na’s board earned a com­pen­sa­tion pack­age val­ued at $490,000 last year, some­thing con­sumer ad­vo­cates quick­ly fixed on as a con­flict of in­ter­est. It’s un­like­ly that crit­ics will be sat­is­fied by Slaoui’s res­ig­na­tion, though Mod­er­na has al­ready done quite well for it­self with­out any added help from Slaoui. The biotech has ben­e­fit­ed ex­ten­sive­ly from ma­jor sup­port from BAR­DA and the NIH and will con­tin­ue to en­joy close con­tacts in Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing at the FDA.

As the lead de­vel­op­er in the US of a new vac­cine, Mod­er­na al­so of­fers the White House a Boston-based com­pa­ny that can po­ten­tial­ly pro­vide a US hero to re­solve the pan­dem­ic. So it’s like­ly Trump’s fa­vorite play­er with or with­out Slaoui’s in­volve­ment.

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel is part of a small band of vac­cines ex­ecs who be­lieves it’s pos­si­ble to do some­thing that would have been con­sid­ered im­pos­si­ble at the be­gin­ning of the year: hus­tle a new vac­cine straight through a Phase I-III pro­gram in a mat­ter of months and come up with just enough piv­otal ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty da­ta to start dis­tri­b­u­tion in the fall.

While bil­lions of peo­ple ea­ger­ly want that, there’s al­so been some sig­nif­i­cant push­back from a va­ri­ety of ex­perts in the field who won­der if it’s re­al­ly fea­si­ble to be able to field a Covid-19 vac­cine in less than 2 years — in it­self some­thing of a mir­a­cle in a sec­tor where de­vel­op­ment can take years and some­times decades.

Slaoui’s po­si­tion will have al­ready been mold­ed by his board post. And it will fit neat­ly in­to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s own view that they can make it hap­pen. Speak­ing at the White House to­day, he men­tioned see­ing un­pub­lished da­ta — pre­sum­ably Mod­er­na’s — that sug­gest­ed suc­cess is close at hand, ac­cord­ing to Politi­co.

“These da­ta made me feel even more con­fi­dent that we will be able to de­liv­er a few hun­dred mil­lion dos­es of vac­cine by the end of 2020,” he said.

We won’t have long to wait.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Astel­las, Pan­th­er­na add or­gan to mR­NA tie-up; Rock­et launch­es sale of six fig­ures worth of stock

Astellas and Pantherna have expanded their November 2021 pact surrounding the latter’s mRNA platform to include a new target organ, the duo announced Tuesday morning, though they did not specify what that target is.

German biotech Pantherna is home to two platform technologies — one that designs mRNAs for non-vaccine therapies and another that designs LNPs. Astellas and Pantherna’s deal appears to mainly revolve around the first platform, which Astellas said it is using to research direct reprogramming, or turning cells from one kind into another without an intermediate stem cell phase.

Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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New Chroma Medicine board member Jeff Marrazzo

Jeff Mar­raz­zo has found a buzzy new biotech cause to cham­pi­on. And once again, he's all in

Jeff Marrazzo is one of those biotech execs who has always been focused on the next big goal. He has a track record for meeting objectives, relentlessly staying on message, and breaking new ground.

The fact that he stayed around for a couple of years after Roche’s $4.3 billion Spark buyout, making sure the organization he founded weathered Covid-19, is one example. And that came after he carefully guided the company to the first-ever US approval of a gene therapy — no easy task.

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Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Andrew Crockett, KalVista CEO

KalVista ends a PhII study ear­ly af­ter pa­tients suf­fer se­vere and life-threat­en­ing side ef­fects

KalVista took a beating Tuesday after announcing it would scrap a Phase II trial for one of its experimental drugs.

The biotech said in an early morning press release that it is terminating the study for KVD824 after multiple patients in every treatment group saw unsafe, elevated levels of certain liver enzymes. By ending the trial now, KalVista hopes to save some money and funnel it toward another study for its lead program, CEO Andrew Crockett said in a statement.

Pen­ny stock play­er to re­view all op­tions to try stay­ing afloat af­ter clin­i­cal tri­al fail

Adamis Pharmaceuticals is slowly tumbling down, and the biotech is looking at all its options.

After a Phase II/III trial failure last month that sent the penny stock player down an additional 50% to just 15 cents a share, the company said Monday that it is examining options to get the best value for its investors. A statement from Adamis indicates that alternatives include anything from a partnership to a sale of Adamis’ two commercial products, Zimhi and Symjepi.

Take­da to pull key hy­poparathy­roidism drug from the mar­ket en­tire­ly by end of 2024 af­ter years of man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

Takeda on Tuesday morning made an announcement that almost 3,000 people with the rare disease known as hypoparathyroidism were fearing.

Due to unresolved supply issues and manufacturing woes, Takeda said it will cut its losses and discontinue its hypoparathyroidism drug, known as Natpara (parathyroid hormone), halting all manufacturing of the drug by the end of 2024.

The decision to not re-commercialize Natpara will be a blow to not only the 2,400 people who were awaiting supplies of their reliable injection since 2019, but also the additional nearly 400 people who were accessing the drugs via the company’s Special Use Program as Takeda sought to resolve these manufacturing issues over the past five years.