Dan Hicklin (File photo)

MPM and Long­wood-backed Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics grabs $56 mil­lion to take tu­mors by night

Backed with the team from his last com­pa­ny, one of the key de­vel­op­ers be­hind Keytru­da has a new warch­est in the race to bring im­munother­a­py in­to the tu­mor mi­cro-en­vi­ron­ment.

Dan Hick­lin, who over­saw Mer­ck’s I/O port­fo­lio and helped de­vel­op sev­er­al oth­er can­cer drugs, is the founder and pres­i­dent of Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics, a com­pa­ny that aims to “shapeshift” its way in­to tu­mors and tear them apart from with­in. With the ex­cep­tion of the COO, its lead­er­ship is en­tire­ly seed­ed from Poten­za Ther­a­peu­tics, the an­ti­body com­pa­ny Hick­lin sold to Astel­las for $165 mil­lion up­front last De­cem­ber. They’ll even use the same lab space.

Were­wolf is backed with $56 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing led by MPM Cap­i­tal and Long­wood and joined by Tai­ho Ven­tures, Arkin Bio Ven­tures, DC In­vest­ment Part­ners and UPMC.

“It was a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, at least for me,” Hick­lin told End­points News. “It’s quite a bit of a dif­fer­ence from check­point ther­a­py.”

Be­yond the YA nov­el brand­ing, Were­wolf has a seem­ing­ly el­e­gant ap­proach to the prob­lems that have vexed re­searchers try­ing to turn the im­mune sys­tem on tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ments. They use what they call their “PREDA­TOR” plat­form to send com­pounds that on­ly trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse once they en­ter the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.

Past com­pa­ny state­ments have com­pared this process to a were­wolf on­ly trans­form­ing in the light of the full moon, but you can prob­a­bly just think of it as act­ing like those kids toys that change col­or in wa­ter.

Mi­croen­vi­ron­ments are par­tic­u­lar­ly im­por­tant in ad­dress­ing sol­id tu­mors, where Were­wolf is fo­cus­ing its ef­forts. These spaces are of­ten im­muno­sup­pres­sive and have been re­sis­tant to the check­point in­hibitors that have dom­i­nat­ed I/O to date. Oth­er biotechs, such as Ed­i­tas or Gam­maDelta, have worked on us­ing par­tic­u­lar im­mune cells, such as gam­ma delta cells or nat­ur­al killer cells to get in­side.

Were­wolf is less than forth­com­ing about what will be at­tached to the plat­form or ex­act­ly how it’ll work with­in tu­mors, say­ing on­ly they will use pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry cy­tokines and cos­tim­u­la­to­ry re­cep­tor ag­o­nists.

The prob­lem with these agents to date, Hick­lin said, is that they can send the im­mune sys­tem in­to dan­ger­ous over­drive.

The body should have im­mune home­osta­sis. Check­points on tu­mor cells put ar­ti­fi­cial brakes on the sys­tem by bind­ing to T cells, and check­point in­hibitors such as Keytru­da pre­vent the tu­mor cells from bind­ing and putting on those brakes.  Were­wolf and oth­er com­pa­nys’ mi­croen­vi­ron­ment agents such as IL-2 throw the nor­mal im­mune sys­tem in­to over­drive. But if they in­crease the im­mune re­sponse out­side the tu­mor too much, they can cause im­mune cells to dam­age healthy tis­sue.

“These are the ac­cel­er­a­tors rather than the brakes,” Hick­lin said, turn­ing to­wards an in­creas­ing­ly com­mon anal­o­gy.

Hick­lin said Were­wolf will se­lect two lead can­di­dates over the next 6 months and hope­ful­ly aim for the clin­ic. It could be a while, but keep an eye out for a full moon.

Amarin CEO John Thero discussing the company's plans for Vascepa, August 2019 — via Bloomberg

Amarin wins a block­buster ap­proval from the FDA. Now every­one can shift fo­cus to the patent

For all those people who could never quite believe that Amarin $AMRN would get an expanded label with blockbuster implications, the stress and anxiety on display right up to the last minute on Twitter can now end. But new, pressing questions will immediately surface now that the OK has come through.

On Friday afternoon, the FDA stamped its landmark approval on the industrial strength fish oil for reducing cardio risks for a large and well defined population of patients. The approval doesn’t give Amarin everything it wants in expanding its use, losing out on the primary prevention group, but it goes a long way to doing what the company needed to make a major splash. The approval was cited for patients with “elevated triglyceride levels (a type of fat in the blood) of 150 milligrams per deciliter or higher. Patients must also have either established cardiovascular disease or diabetes and two or more additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

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Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Sarep­ta was stunned by the re­jec­tion of Vyondys 53. Now it's stun­ning every­one with a sur­prise ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta has a friend in the FDA after all. Four months after the agency determined that it would be wrong to give Sarepta an accelerated approval for their Duchenne MD drug golodirsen, regulators have executed a stunning about face and offered the biotech a quick green light in any case.

It was the agency that first put out the news late Thursday, announcing that Duchenne MD patients with a mutation amenable to exon 53 skipping will now have their first targeted treatment: Vyondys 53, or golodirsen. Having secured the OK via a dispute resolution mechanism, the biotech said the new drug has been priced on par with their only other marketed drug, Exondys 51 — which for an average patient costs about $300,000 per year, but since pricing is based on weight, that sticker price can even cross $1 million.

Sarepta shares $SRPT surged 23% after-market to $124.

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Arie Belldegrun (Photo: Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Ju­ry finds Gilead li­able for $585M and big roy­al­ties in Kite CAR-T patent case

A Kite deal that’s already become a burden on Gilead’s back just got heavier as a California jury has ruled Gilead must pay Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sloan Kettering $585 million plus a 27.6% royalty for patent infringement committed by its subsidiary. The ruling is almost certain to be appealed.

Kite Pharma — founded by Arie Belldegrun, now focused on a next-gen CAR-T company — has been facing a lawsuit since the day its first CAR–T therapy won approval in October, 2017. Juno Therapeutics and Sloan Kettering filed a complaint saying Kite had copied its technology. Gilead acquired Kite in June of that year for $11.9 billion.  Juno was acquired the following year by Celgene for $9 billion, before Celgene was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2019.

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FDA ex­pert pan­el unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mends ap­proval for Hori­zon Ther­a­peu­tics eye drug

An FDA advisory committee noted with concern a small safety database but unanimously endorsed a Horizon Therapeutics drug for a rare eye autoimmune disease that can blind patients: teprotumumab for thyroid eye disease (TED).

“It was a pretty easy vote,” said Erica Brittain, an NIH biostatistician and one of the 12 panelists on FDA’s Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee.

Paul Biondi (File photo)

Paul Biondi's track record at Bris­tol-My­ers cov­ered bil­lions in deals of every shape and size. Here's the com­plete break­down

Paul Biondi was never afraid to bet big during his stint as business development chief at Bristol-Myers Squibb. And while the gambles didn’t all pay out, by any means, his roster of pacts illustrates the broad ambitions the pharma giant has had over the last 5 years — capped by the $74 billion Celgene buyout.

On Thursday, we learned that Biondi had exited the company. And Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma came up with the complete breakdown on every buyout, licensing pact and product purchase Bristol-Myers forged during his tenure in charge of the BD team at one of the busiest companies in biopharma.

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Paul Biondi (File photo)

Bris­tol-My­er­s' strat­e­gy, BD chief Paul Bion­di ex­it­ed the com­pa­ny — just ahead of the $74B Cel­gene deal close

Paul Biondi, who orchestrated billions of dollars in deals for Bristol-Myers Squibb over the 5 years he’s run their business development team, has exited the company. Biondi left last month, according to a company spokesperson, in pursuit of another — unspecified — external opportunity.

After 17 years with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Paul Biondi, Head of Strategy and Business Development, decided to leave the company to pursue an external opportunity. The company wishes him well in his new endeavors. Bristol-Myers Squibb  is actively searching for Paul’s successor, and will make an announcement, as appropriate.

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Arie Belldegrun at UKBIO 2019. Shai Dolev for Endpoints News

Kite Phar­ma's ex-CEO con­tra­dicts founder as CAR-T patent tri­al heats up, with con­flict­ing val­u­a­tions

Two days after Kite Pharma founder Arie Belldegrun told a federal courtroom that a meeting he had with a Memorial Sloan Kettering executive wasn’t about licensing their immunotherapy patent, Kite’s ex-CEO Aya Jakobovits said it was.

The admission came Tuesday during cross-examination in a patent infringement case that features two of the biggest cancer biotechs and some of the most well-known names in American medicine.

Jakobovits initially said she was not in attendance, didn’t know it was going to happen and didn’t know what took place, according to Law360. But then the plaintiff’s lawyer handed her a document – whose contents were not publicly revealed – and asked again if she learned after-the-fact that the meeting involved a potential patent license.

“Yes,” Jakobovits eventually said.

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On the heels of promis­ing MCL da­ta, Kite hus­tles its 2nd CAR-T to the FDA as the next big race in the field draws to the fin­ish line

Three days after Gilead’s Kite subsidiary showed off stellar data on their number 2 CAR-T KTE-X19 at ASH, the executive team has pivoted straight to the FDA with a BLA filing and a shot at a near-term approval.

In a small, 74-patient Phase II trial reported out at the beginning of the week, investigators tracked a 93% response rate with two out of three mantle cell lymphoma patients experiencing a complete response.

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