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

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi and Am­gen are bring­ing cash to cov­er the ta­ble stakes for the Hori­zon M&A game

With the market cap on Horizon Therapeutics $HZNP pushed up to the $23 billion mark today, one of the Big Pharmas in the hunt for a major league buyout deal signaled it’s playing the M&A game with cash.

Paris-based Sanofi, where CEO Paul Hudson has been largely focused on some risky biotech acquisitions to win some respect for its future pipeline prospects, issued a statement early Friday — complying with Rule 2.12 of the Irish takeover rules — making clear that while the certainty or size of an offer can’t be determined, any offer “will be solely in cash.” And Amgen CEO Robert Bradway came right in behind him, filing a statement on the London Stock Exchange overnight that any offer they may make will “likely” be in cash as well.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls

Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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Matt Gline, Roivant Sciences CEO (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for GLG)

Pfiz­er and Roivant team up again for an­oth­er 'Van­t', set­ting up an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry show­down with Prometheus

Pfizer and Roivant are teaming up to launch a new ‘Vant’ aimed at bringing a mid-stage anti-inflammatory drug to market, the pair announced Thursday.

There’s no name for the startup yet, nor are there any employees. Thus far, the new company and Roivant can be considered “one and the same,” Roivant CEO Matt Gline tells Endpoints News. But Pfizer is so enthusiastic about the target that it elected to keep 25% of equity in the drug rather than take upfront cash from Roivant, Gline said.

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Thomas Gad, Y-mAbs Therapeutics founder and interim CEO

FDA re­jects Y-mAbs’ neu­rob­las­toma drug af­ter tak­ing is­sue with clin­i­cal tri­al de­sign

Uncertainty about clinical trial evidence has led the FDA to hand down a complete response letter for Y-mAbs’ neuroblastoma drug, casting a cloud on the future of a candidate that had gone through a long development journey in a rare pediatric cancer.

Y-mAbs said it’s disappointed “but not surprised” given that the agency’s oncology drug advisory committee had voted 16-0 against its drug’s approval a few weeks ago.

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Philip Tagari switch­es Am­gen's dis­cov­ery lab for in­sitro's ma­chine learn­ing tools; CEO Joaquin Du­a­to to chair J&J's board

In February, Philip Tagari will take a few days of retirement and then immediately return to industry. He won’t be leading the therapeutics discovery unit for a large biopharma, though.

He’ll trade in his Amgen hat for chief scientist at a machine learning startup that has reeled in hundreds of millions in capital to lay the groundwork for a much-hyped new model of drug discovery that aims to speed up the time to new clinical assets.

Raul Rodriguez, Rigel Pharma CEO

Rigel Phar­ma scores FDA ap­proval for leukemia, kick­ing off show­down with Servi­er in IDH1

When Rigel Pharma bought olutasidenib from Forma Therapeutics, it acquired a drug that already secured a PDUFA date at the FDA — for February 2023. But regulators are ready to give their OK sooner than that.

The FDA has approved the IDH1 inhibitor as a treatment for adult patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia who have a susceptible IDH-1 (isocitrate dehydrogenase-1) mutation as detected by an FDA-greenlit test. Rigel will market it as Rezlidhia.

Tim Pearson, Carrick Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er backs $60M in­fu­sion in­to Car­rick, teams up on breast can­cer treat­ment

In a big week for Carrick Therapeutics, the company announced $60 million in funding for its lead breast cancer drug and development of a second program, as well as a collaboration with Pfizer for combo development.

The $35 million from Pfizer comes with an agreement under which Pfizer will support Carrick’s Phase II study of samuraciclib in combination with Pfizer’s Faslodex for advanced breast cancer. Along with the investment, Adam Schayowitz, vice president and development head of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma at Pfizer global product development, will join Carrick’s scientific advisory board.

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