Ned Sharp­less is not play­ing with the FDA’s gold stan­dard — any more than Scott Got­tlieb did

Ned Sharp­less got a chance to out­line just what kind of act­ing FDA chief he’ll be in the wake of Scott Got­tlieb’s de­par­ture from the agency. And aside from a more con­ser­v­a­tive se­lec­tion of socks, he’s clear­ly plan­ning to adopt the ex­act same fash­ions laid down by his pre­de­ces­sor.

Ned Sharp­less. (DARR BEIS­ER/NA­TION­AL CAN­CER IN­STI­TUTE)

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In an all-hands-on-deck ad­dress to staffers, Sharp­less promised to fit the Got­tlieb mold per­fect­ly, vow­ing to main­tain the agency’s gold stan­dard on drug ap­provals while do­ing what he can to keep the copy­cats com­ing to help tamp down on drug costs.

So let me re­as­sure you, I am not plan­ning any rad­i­cal changes from what the FDA has been try­ing to ac­com­plish.

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

That’s a theme that will be mu­sic to the ears of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try, which quick­ly swooned to Got­tlieb’s en­er­getic mes­sages on speed­ing ap­provals when­ev­er ap­pro­pri­ate while hold­ing the line on safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy stan­dards. The fu­ture of the FDA proved to be a huge is­sue at the start of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s term in of­fice, as Trump en­ter­tained some lib­er­tar­i­an no­tions that fright­ened the be­je­sus out of com­pa­nies that clear­ly want­ed a more re­cep­tive reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proach — with­out any reg­u­la­to­ry an­ar­chy that would de­stroy the val­ue of an FDA OK.

Sharp­less got right to it. His bot­tom line:

Nec­es­sar­i­ly, there will be course ad­just­ments as new facts emerge, but es­sen­tial­ly, I feel I am walk­ing in­to an or­ga­ni­za­tion on a good tra­jec­to­ry, and my main job is to fig­ure out how keep that go­ing.

Now how to do that:  let me sug­gest two guid­ing prin­ci­ples.

First, I be­lieve our ef­forts should re­ly on and be guid­ed by the sci­ence. As a re­searcher, I am used to let­ting da­ta dri­ve my de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and I know this has al­ways been the ap­proach at FDA.

Sec­ond, when wran­gling with the com­plex is­sues that face the agency, we will keep top of mind our mis­sion of pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing pub­lic health, and what that means to the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

So that’s what will steer my pri­or­i­ties as act­ing com­mis­sion­er: a com­mit­ment to sci­ence-based de­ci­sion-mak­ing and pri­or­i­tiz­ing our ef­forts for the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic health.

That mes­sage on con­ti­nu­ity ex­tends to the agency’s work hus­tling up less ex­pen­sive knock­offs.

I promise you, for ex­am­ple, that we’ll con­tin­ue our im­por­tant and suc­cess­ful work to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion and reign in pre­scrip­tion drug costs through ad­vances in our gener­ic drug and biosim­i­lars pro­grams

And we’ll con­tin­ue to do every­thing we can to make the de­vel­op­ment of new treat­ments and cures more ef­fi­cient across our med­ical prod­uct cen­ters, while en­sur­ing that we main­tain FDA’s gold stan­dard of safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy.

What could be more re­as­sur­ing to the in­dus­try, law­mak­ers and the pub­lic?

In­ter­est­ing­ly, Got­tlieb’s de­par­ture from the FDA was al­so marked by his in­sis­tence that the rank-and-file drug de­vel­op­ers of the world need­ed to do more to adopt the re­forms he had pushed, look­ing for faster, more ef­fi­cient ways to de­vel­op drugs. The chal­lenge for Sharp­less will be to see if he con­tin­ues that push as an in­dus­try train­er look­ing to get some out-of-shape de­vel­op­ers up to speed with the new or­der. And that means urg­ing reg­u­la­tors as well to get the lead out.

Scott Got­tlieb

Con­ti­nu­ity may sound like the ex­act right mes­sage here and now. But if that be­comes a con­ser­v­a­tive ap­proach to main­tain­ing stan­dards and tra­di­tions, plea­sure may soon be re­placed by an un­easy feel­ing that the FDA may once again be­come more of an ob­sta­cle and less of a part­ner. And that won’t be wel­come.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: J&J work­ing on vac­cine for vari­ants, tri­al sched­uled for sum­mer

This week, Moderna announced it would begin testing a modified version of their mRNA vaccine to tackle the vaccine-resistant B1.351 variant that popped up in South Africa. Pfizer said it would test giving people an extra boost of its original vaccine to accomplish the same.

J&J revealed at the adcomm that they, too, have been working on a modified vaccine to tackle emerging variants.

The company didn’t reveal much detail, including how they modified the vaccine or if they were targeting the same B 1.351 variant, but Johan van Hoof said they would begin testing a new construct in the summer. The FDA has said they would allow modified vaccines for variants to be authorized after quick immunological studies that track whether the vaccine elicits antibodies against the new variant.

Gos­samer push­es ahead with failed asth­ma drug; Cull­gen gets $50M Se­ries B for pro­tein de­graders

After getting beaten up by investors over the key failure of its lead drug GB001, Gossamer had already indicated that they thought they could move ahead in asthma, though likely through a partnership. And the biotech is pushing forward on that front, according to a Q4 statement today, following talks with regulators.

The company reported:

Gossamer engaged with the FDA and the EMA about the clinical development path in asthma, and based off those interactions, Gossamer believes that there is a viable clinical development path for GB001, or its backup molecule, in asthma. Gossamer does not currently plan to move forward with GB001, or its backup molecule, in further clinical trials without a partner.