Neoanti­gens beck­on Mer­ck in­to a $200M can­cer col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mod­er­na

Now that Gale­na has added fresh ev­i­dence that first-gen can­cer vac­cines make for a poor R&D pro­gram, Mer­ck is bet­ting $200 mil­lion up­front that the next-gen neoanti­gen ap­proach to per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines can suc­ceed where all else has failed.

Mer­ck is ty­ing up with the mR­NA spe­cial­ists at Cam­bridge, MA-based Mod­er­na, which has inked a long line­up of mar­quee part­ner­ships. The big idea here is that each per­son’s can­cer cells present unique “neoanti­gens” that can be used to tai­lor a can­cer vac­cine for each pa­tient.

That’s a rad­i­cal idea that has gained con­sid­er­able steam in re­cent months, with Grit­stone and Neon Ther­a­peu­tics — paired now with Bris­tol-My­ers on Op­di­vo — round­ing up sig­nif­i­cant ven­ture cash. Biotech bil­lion­aire Patrick Soon-Sh­iong has al­so jumped in­to the game, in­clud­ing it in its grow­ing slate of can­cer R&D work in a group of star­tups.

Mod­er­na says it has al­ready set up a man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tem that can be used to cre­ate these per­son­al­ized vac­cines in a mat­ter of weeks. And Mer­ck will use the part­ner­ship to ad­vance new com­bi­na­tion ther­a­pies that in­clude its check­point in­hibitor Keytru­da.

The way the deal works, Mod­er­na notes in its state­ment, is that Mer­ck can step up af­ter it sees some ev­i­dence in hu­mans that the tech is work­ing as planned. Af­ter hu­man proof-of-con­cept, if Mer­ck wants to opt in they can pay a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone and then both com­pa­nies can share the cost on Phase III and com­mer­cial­iza­tions, prof­it­ing equal­ly.

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel says they can jump in­to the clin­ic next year.

The deal marks an­oth­er rare pact by Mer­ck R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter, who’s been care­ful­ly

Roger Perl­mut­ter, Pres­i­dent, Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries

fo­cused on mak­ing Keytru­da a foun­da­tion fran­chise that can sus­tain the com­pa­ny for years to come. While Mer­ck has been a cou­ple of steps be­hind Bris­tol-My­ers in gain­ing mar­ket share, Perl­mut­ter’s not set­tling for a sec­ond place fin­ish.

“Com­bin­ing im­munother­a­py with vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy may be a new path to­ward im­prov­ing out­comes for pa­tients,” said Perl­mut­ter, pres­i­dent, Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries. “While the area of per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cine re­search has faced chal­lenges in the past, there have been many re­cent ad­vances, and we be­lieve that work­ing with Mod­er­na to com­bine an im­muno-on­col­o­gy ap­proach, us­ing KEYTRU­DA, with mR­NA-based per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines may have the po­ten­tial to trans­form the treat­ment of can­cer.”

Un­lock­ing ESG strate­gies for growth with Gilead Sci­ences

RBC Capital Markets explores what is material in ESG for biopharma companies with the ESG leads at Gilead Sciences. Gilead has long focused on sustainability but recognized a more robust framework was needed. Based on a materiality assessment, Gilead’s ESG strategy today focuses first on drug access and pricing, while also addressing D&I and climate change. Find out why Gilead’s board is “acutely aware” of the contribution that ESG makes to firm’s overall success.

What con­tro­ver­sy? Eli Lil­ly plots Alzheimer's BLA fil­ing lat­er this year as FDA taps more an­ti-amy­loid drugs as break­throughs

The FDA is keeping the good news coming for Alzheimer’s drug developers. And Eli Lilly is taking them up on it.

Amid continued controversy around whether Biogen’s new flagship drug, Aduhelm, should have been approved at all — and swelling, heated debates surrounding its $56,000 price tag — the agency had no issue handing them and their Japanese partner Eisai a breakthrough therapy designation for a second anti-amyloid beta antibody, lecanemab, late Wednesday.

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Richard Pazdur (vis AACR)

FDA en­cour­ages in­clud­ing in­cur­able can­cer pa­tients in tri­als, re­gard­less of pri­or ther­a­pies

The FDA on Thursday called to include those with incurable cancers (when there is no potential for cure or for prolonged/near normal survival) in appropriate clinical trials, regardless of whether they have received existing alternative treatments.

Historically, many cancer clinical trials have required that participating patients previously received multiple therapies, according to Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence.

Hervé Hoppenot, Incyte CEO (Jeff Rumans)

ODAC echoes FDA con­cern over In­cyte PD-1, as Paz­dur sig­nals broad­er shift for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

After the FDA lambasted their PD-1 ahead of an adcomm earlier this week, Incyte ran into new trouble Thursday as ODAC panelists voted against an accelerated OK by a wide margin.

Members of the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee recommended with a 13-4 vote to defer a regulatory decision on Incyte’s retifanlimab until after more data can be collected from a placebo-controlled trial. The PD-1 therapy is due for a PDUFA date in late July after receiving priority review earlier this year.

New FDA doc­u­ments show in­ter­nal dis­sent on Aduhelm ap­proval

In a lengthy review document and a pair of memos from top officials, the FDA released on Tuesday night its most detailed argument yet for approving Biogen’s intensely controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab.

The documents amount to an agency attempt to quench the firestorm their decision kindled, as outside advisors members resigned and experts warned that an unproven drug now could stretch Medicare’s budget to a breaking point. Ultimately, the documents show how CDER director Patrizia Cavazzoni and Office of New Drugs director Peter Stein both concurred with FDA neuroscience head Billy Dunn on the accelerated approval while the staff at FDA’s Office of Biostatistics did not think an approval was warranted.

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Karen Flynn, Catalent

Q&A: When the pan­dem­ic struck, Catal­en­t's CCO had just joined the team

Karen Flynn came aboard Catalent’s team just in time.

The company was going through a surge of changes, and she had been brought over from her role as CCO of West Pharmaceutical Services to serve in the same capacity for the New Jersey-based CDMO. Then a few months later, the pandemic was in full-force.

Since then, Catalent’s been in hyper-expansion mode. In early May, it acquired Promethera’s Hepatic Cell Therapy Support SA subsidiary and its 32,40-square-foot facility in Gosselies, Belgium. Prior to that, the company acquired Belgian CDMO Delphi Genetics, wrapped up the expansion of an already-existing site in Madison, WI and added an ultra-low temperature freezer partner in Sterling. As Emergent has botched millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the company has swooped in to move that production to its Maryland plant as well.

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Yuval Cohen, Corbus CEO (Corbus via YouTube)

An­oth­er Cor­bus pro­gram hits the skids af­ter late-stage flop, plum­met­ing the small biotech's shares

Corbus Pharmaceuticals’ plans to position lenabasum as a pipeline-in-a-product aren’t going so well.

After shelving a program in scleroderma, the Norwood, MA-based biotech has revealed that its lead candidate failed both the primary and secondary endpoints in another Phase III trial.

Lenabasum failed to show a statistically significant difference in total improvement compared with placebo in treating dermatomyositis, a rare disease that causes muscle inflammation and skin rash, the company said Thursday. The news sent Corbus’ $CRBP stock spiraling around 30% early Thursday morning.

On heels of Aduhelm ap­proval, Bris­tol My­ers jumps back in­to Alzheimer's race

Bristol Myers Squibb last put major resources behind an Alzheimer’s drug nearly a decade ago, when their own attempt at targeting amyloid flamed out in mid-stage studies. They invented another molecule, a Tau-targeted antibody, but jettisoned it to Biogen in 2017 as they dropped out of neuroscience altogether.

But on Thursday, the New York pharma announced they were getting back in the game. Bristol Myers exercised an $80 million option to bring a tau-targeted antibody from Prothena into a Phase I study. The opt-in, which Bristol Myers triggered ahead of analyst expectations, opens the door for another $1.7 billion in milestones down the road.

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Elizabeth Warren (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors call for hear­ing to ex­am­ine how Medicare will han­dle Bio­gen's new Alzheimer's drug

Two top Senate Finance committee senators on Thursday called for a hearing to examine the questions and challenges for Medicare arising from the FDA’s recent approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm, the controversial new drug approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

In a letter to Senate Finance chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-ID), subcommittee chair Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) hinted at making policy changes to enable Medicare to more directly connect prescription drug pricing to clinical effectiveness. They raised questions about the “dramatic implications for our health care system” from the approval, which they said “stretch well beyond the scope of FDA’s jurisdiction.”

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