Ne­oleuk­in's quest to shake up the IL-2 space gets a boost via re­verse merg­er with Aquinox

Months af­ter launch­ing out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, Ne­oleukin Ther­a­peu­tics is mak­ing a swift leap to the Nas­daq and gain­ing mo­men­tum to push its new IL-2 can­cer drug to the clin­ic.

Jonathan Drach­man

Aquinox Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — which had been ex­plor­ing strate­gic al­ter­na­tives af­ter a late-stage dis­as­ter forced the com­pa­ny to ax half its staff — pro­vid­ed the shell for the re­verse merg­er. Their share­hold­ers will own around 61.42% of the com­bined en­ti­ty while Ne­oleukin gets ac­cess to $65 mil­lion in cap­i­tal­iza­tion.

David Main

As the Ne­oleukin brand $NLTX and the ex­ec­u­tive team take over, David Main is ex­it­ing the pic­ture as Jonathan Drach­man as­sumes the CEO role. His VP team com­pris­ing Daniel Sil­va, Umut Ulge and Carl Walkey will con­tin­ue their work in re­search, trans­la­tion­al med­i­cine and cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment, re­spec­tive­ly. Mean­while, Aquinox’s Kam­ran Alam will help out with the tran­si­tion as in­ter­im CFO.

Drach­man, a Seat­tle Ge­net­ics vet, calls the merg­er “trans­for­ma­tion­al” as it pro­vides “ad­di­tion­al cap­i­tal to pre­pare an IND sub­mis­sion, gen­er­ate clin­i­cal da­ta, de­vel­op ad­di­tion­al pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, and ad­vance our com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy.”

Ne­oleukin’s break­through re­volves around lever­ag­ing the po­ten­cy of IL-2 while avoid­ing the tox­i­c­i­ty is­sues that have plagued the hu­man re­com­bi­nant IL-2 Pro­leukin (and spurred No­var­tis to of­fload the drug to Clin­i­gen). Work­ing with a com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy out of the In­sti­tute of Pro­tein De­sign, the group de­signed a de no­vo pro­tein that binds specif­i­cal­ly to IL-2 be­ta and gam­ma re­cep­tors as well as IL-15. The mech­a­nism of ac­tion sup­pos­ed­ly cir­cum­vents CD25, con­sid­ered re­spon­si­ble for tox­ic side ef­fects.

They are vy­ing for a place in the clin­ic at a time the con­tro­ver­sy is still brew­ing around Nek­tar’s own at­tempt at solv­ing the IL-2 dilem­ma. Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb paid the biotech $1.85 bil­lion in up­front cash to pair NK­TR-214 with their check­point Op­di­vo, but en­thu­si­asm around the com­bo has dwin­dled along­side the over­all re­sponse rate.

Oth­er ri­vals are plot­ting their own moves, too, with Lau­ra Shawver’s Syn­thorx $THOR en­ter­ing the clin­ic a few weeks ago. Backed by Or­biMed and Medicxi, the biotech’s lead can­di­date is a vari­ant of hu­man re­com­bi­nant IL-2 with a pe­gy­lat­ed in a way that doesn’t en­gage the al­pha re­cep­tor. The “not-al­pha” struc­ture gives it sim­i­lar ac­tiv­i­ty to IL-15, ex­tends half-life and does not in­duce the vas­cu­lar leak syn­drome that Pro­leukin is known for, ac­cord­ing to the biotech.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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FDA to Sarep­ta: Your wide­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed fol­lowup to Ex­ondys 51 is not get­ting an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK for Duchenne MD

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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UP­DAT­ED: No­var­tis spin­off Nabri­va fi­nal­ly scores its first an­tibi­ot­ic ap­proval

In May, Nabriva Therapeutics suffered a setback after the FDA rejected its antibiotic for complicated urinary tract infections — the Novartis spinoff has now had some better luck with the US agency, which on Monday approved its other drug for community-acquired bacterial pneumonia.

The drug, lefamulin, has been developed as an intravenous and oral formulation and been tested in two late-stage clinical trials. The semi-synthetic compound, whose dosing can be switched between the two formulations, is engineered to inhibit the synthesis of bacterial protein by binding to a part of the bacterial ribosome.

Saqib Islam. CheckRare via YouTube

Spring­Works seeks $115M to push Pfiz­er drugs across fin­ish line while Sat­suma sells mi­graine play in $86M IPO

SpringWorks and Satsuma — both biotech spinouts that have closed B rounds in April — are loading up with IPO cash to boost their respective late-stage plans.
SpringWorks

Bain-backed SpringWorks is the better-known company of the two, and it’s gunning for a larger windfall of $115 million to add to $228 million from previous financings. In the process, the Stamford, CT-based team is also drawing the curtains on the partnerships it has in mind for the pair of assets it had initially licensed from Pfizer.

Mi­nor­i­ty racial groups con­tin­ue to be dis­mal­ly rep­re­sent­ed in can­cer tri­als — study

Data reveal that different racial and ethnic groups — by nature and/or nurture — can respond differently in terms of pharmacokinetics, efficacy, or safety to therapeutics, but this disparity is not necessarily accounted for in clinical trials. A fresh analysis of the last decade of US cancer drug approvals suggests the trend continues, cementing previous research that suggests oncology trials are woefully under-representative of the racial makeup of the real world.

Van­da shares slide af­ter FDA spurns their big end­point and re­jects a pitch on jet lag re­lief

Back in the spring of last year, Vanda Pharmaceuticals $VNDA served up a hot stew of mixed data for a slate of endpoints related to what they called clear evidence that their melatonin sleep drug Hetlioz (tasimelteon) could help millions of travelers suffering from jet lag.

Never mind that they couldn’t get a planned 90 people in the study, settling for 25 instead; Vanda CEO Mihael H. Polymeropoulos said they were building on a body of data to prove it would help jet-lagged patients looking for added sleep benefits. And that, they added, would be worth a major upgrade from the agency as they sought to tackle a big market.