New cell ther­a­py play­er launch­es with $57M from mar­quee in­vestors to go af­ter 'de­fin­i­tive' tu­mor tar­gets

A crew of Am­gen and Kite vets is pub­licly throw­ing their new start­up in­to the cell ther­a­py hat — though they are say­ing lit­tle out­side of the ba­sics and $57 mil­lion in Se­ries A cash.

Alexan­der Kamb

The Col­umn Group, Vi­da Ven­tures, Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal and Nex­tech In­vest are back­ing A2 Bio­ther­a­peu­tics’ quest to find new ways of en­gag­ing im­mune cells in se­lec­tive­ly at­tack­ing can­cer. To do so, the biotech is work­ing with two tar­get class­es: pep­tide MHC tar­gets and tar­gets that are “ir­re­versibly lost in tu­mor cells.” The for­mer builds on an in­creas­ing­ly pop­u­lar strat­e­gy of lo­cat­ing neoanti­gens for T cells to home in on, while the lat­ter is in­spired by a mech­a­nism used by nat­ur­al killer cells.

“A2 Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has po­tent, high­ly se­lec­tive binders that we com­bine in­to mol­e­c­u­lar con­structs to in­te­grate mul­ti­ple sig­nals and po­ten­tial­ly pro­vide a large ther­a­peu­tic win­dow,” said CSO Alexan­der Kamb, who co-found­ed the biotech af­ter a stint as SVP of re­search at Am­gen. They could be an­ti­body and T-cell re­cep­tor frag­ments, ac­cord­ing to its state­ment.

Scott Forak­er

Scott Forak­er, his for­mer col­league at the Big Biotech, re­cent­ly signed on as pres­i­dent and CEO.

Work­ing out of Agoura Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, their team of 40 ex­pects to ush­er the first prod­uct can­di­date in­to the clin­ic next year. Its four pro­grams in de­vel­op­ment span can­cer testis anti­gen for sol­id tu­mors; “tar­gets lost” anti­gens for sol­id tu­mors; neoanti­gens for head and neck can­cer; and neoanti­gens for pan­cre­at­ic, col­orec­tal and lung can­cer.

Michelle Kreke

It al­so plans on con­struct­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty — ar­guably the most im­por­tant core com­pe­ten­cy that dif­fer­en­ti­ates one cell ther­a­py play­er from an­oth­er — in 2020 with the mind­set of ul­ti­mate­ly pro­duc­ing its own com­mer­cial sup­ply. The site would sup­port an au­tol­o­gous ap­proach, though A2 Bio didn’t spec­i­fy what kind of cells it would use as the source.

Their lead in tech­ni­cal ops is Michelle Kreke, who was cred­it­ed for lead­ing chem­istry, man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­trols for the pi­o­neer­ing CAR-T Yescar­ta.

2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

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How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Wuhan virus out­break trig­gers in­evitable small-biotech ral­ly

Every few years, a public health crisis (think Ebola, Zika) spurred by a rogue pathogen triggers a small-biotech rally, as drugmakers emerge from the woodwork with ambitious plans to treat the mounting outbreak. In most cases, that enthusiasm never quite delivers.

Things are no different, as the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China takes hold. There have been close to 300 confirmed human infections in China, and at least four deaths. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which include MERS and SARS. On Tuesday, the CDC reported the virus was detected in a US traveler returning from Wuhan.

Hal Barron and Emma Walmsley, GSK

GSK’s ‘break­through’ BC­MA can­cer drug gets a pri­or­i­ty re­view — and a big win for the on­col­o­gy R&D team

After largely whiffing the past 2 years on the pharma R&D front, GlaxoSmithKline research chief Hal Barron has seized boasting rights to a key win that puts them back in the cancer drug development game.

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Who are the young bio­phar­ma lead­ers shap­ing the in­dus­try? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' spe­cial re­port

Update: Nominations open through end of day, Monday, January 27

Two years ago, when we did our first Endpoints 20-under-40, we profiled a set of up-and-comers who promised to help reshape the industry as we know it. Now we’re back and once again looking for the top 20 biopharma professionals under the age of 40. We’ll be profiling folks who have accomplished a lot at a young age but seem on the verge of accomplishing so much more.

John Oyler, Endpoints

BeiGene lines up its first shot at crack­ing the megablock­buster PD-1 mar­ket for lung can­cer. But can they over­come un­der­dog sta­tus?

BeiGene took another big step towards challenging Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca and some other Big Pharma heavyweights for a share of the lucrative lung cancer market for the PD-(L)1s racking up billions in annual revenue.

The China-based biotech $BGNE run by CEO John Oyler posted positive top-line progression-free survival results for their pivotal Chinese study on their PD-1 antibody tislelizumab combined with chemo for squamous non-small cell lung cancer in frontline cases. Squamous NSCLC accounts for about 30% of the overall lung cancer market.

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Brex­it fears, Wood­ford woes over­shad­owed UK biotech and cut 2019 fi­nanc­ing by al­most half

The venture tide might have subsided, the IPO window may be closing and certain listed biotechs may be having a tough time amid Neil Woodford’s well-publicized demised, but there’s still plenty to celebrate in the UK BioIndustry Association’s eyes.

Overall investment in UK biotech last year fell from the record-breaking £2.2 billion levels of 2018 to £1.3 billion — including £679 million in venture capital, a meager £64 million in IPOs plus £596 million when you add up all public financings, according to a new report from the BIA.

Blue­print Med­i­cines po­ten­tial­ly de­lays Ay­vak­it de­ci­sion; Con­trol beats treat­ment in mesothe­lioma tri­al

→ Blueprint Medicines filed an amendment to its application to get the gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) drug Ayvakit approved in fourth-line GIST, the company disclosed in the prospectus for a new $325 million public offering.  Blueprint got a big accelerated OK on the drug this month in a particular mutation, but because the FDA decided to split their review in two, they didn’t hear on fourth-line GIST. They were supposed to hear before February 14, but this amendment could push that date back by 3 months. Blueprint wrote that the amendment is designed to allow the company to comply with the FDA’s request for data from the Phase III VOYAGER before they give a judgment.