New UK start­up pur­sues off-the-shelf CAR-T, can­cer vac­cines through 'dark anti­gen­s'

Sci­en­tists un­furl­ing the hu­man genome at the turn of the cen­tu­ry came across many sur­pris­es but per­haps noth­ing as shock­ing as the per­cent­age of the genome that didn’t ap­pear to code for any­thing. Around 2% wrote pro­teins and the rest ap­peared to be “junk,” “dark,” or, as the New York Times then put it, “the ap­par­ent prod­uct of a typ­ing pool of drunk­en ba­boons. ”

Armed with the sup­po­si­tion ba­boons hadn’t cre­at­ed hu­man DNA, many sci­en­tists have the spent the pre­vail­ing two decades fig­ur­ing out what the so-called junk DNA is for or how it got there. One start­up out of the UK is now by­pass­ing part of that ques­tion and at­tempt­ing to lever­age seg­ments of “dark” DNA for can­cer vac­cines and im­munother­a­pies.

Kevin Po­jasek

Er­vaxx launched out of Lon­don with $17.5 mil­lion in seed and Se­ries A fund­ing on the promise that some non-cod­ing DNA in fact codes pro­teins in can­cer cells and that those pro­teins could be tar­gets for can­cer vac­cines and off-the-shelf CAR–T. The fund­ing is from SV Health In­vestors and an undis­closed glob­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny. They’ve dubbed the tech “Dark Anti­gens” — af­ter the dark genome and a play on cos­mo­log­i­cal dark mat­ter, the vast amount of mat­ter in the uni­verse we’re pret­ty sure is there but re­mains in­vis­i­ble and large­ly in­scrutable.

“What we found is a set of se­quences in the genome that are se­lec­tive­ly tran­scribed and trans­lat­ed in can­cer and not in nor­mal cells,” CEO Kevin Po­jasek told End­points News.  “I think it’s sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly fas­ci­nat­ing that we’re sit­ting here in 2019 and find­ing new pro­teins in can­cer cells and from a ther­a­peu­tic per­spec­tive, it could make great anti­gens or neo-anti­gens for cell ther­a­py.”

Er­vaxx’s plat­form emerged out of a rel­a­tive­ly well-un­der­stood part of the dark genome, en­doge­nous retro­virus­es (ERV). Over mil­len­nia or eons of in­fect­ing hu­mans and our mam­malian an­ces­tors, these an­cient virus­es in­cor­po­rat­ed them­selves in­to our DNA and left a foot­print that ac­counts for about 8% of hu­man ge­net­ic code. Er­vaxx’s pitch is that the rapid dam­age can­cer caus­es to tu­mor DNA can lead pro­teins in these nor­mal­ly dead re­gions to be cod­ed.

It’s not clear what – if any­thing – these pro­teins do, but Po­jasek said they can func­tion as an anti­gen tar­get for tu­mor cells. He said their re­search showed that they are al­ready de­tectable to naive tu­mor cells, in the­o­ry al­low­ing Er­vaxx to use a vac­cine or a CAR-T process to then amp-up the im­mune re­sponse.

Be­cause the same anti­gens ap­pear to be present in dif­fer­ent peo­ple, they might al­low for an off-the-shelf CAR-T ap­proach, al­though Er­vaxx is al­so pur­su­ing a vac­cine and clas­sic CAR-T strat­e­gy. Its lead pro­gram is a vac­cine for melanoma, with oth­er ther­a­pies in the works for non-small cell lung can­cer, ovar­i­an can­cer and breast can­cer, among oth­ers. They hope to ward off re­sis­tance to any po­ten­tial ther­a­py by trig­ger­ing an im­mune re­sponse against mul­ti­ple dark anti­gens.

Com­mu­ni­cat­ing the val­ue of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine

By Natasha Cowan, Content Marketing Manager at Blue Latitude Health.
Many stakeholders are confused by novel precision medicines, including patients and healthcare professionals. So, how can industry help them to navigate this complexity?

Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare. It embodies the shift from treating many patients with the same therapy, to having the tools to identify the best treatment for every patient.

Spe­cial re­port: Twen­ty ex­tra­or­di­nary women in bio­phar­ma R&D who worked their way to the top

What differentiates a woman leader in biopharma R&D from a man?

Not much, except there are fewer of them in senior posts. Data suggest women are not more risk-averse, family-oriented or less confident than their male counterparts — indeed the differences between the two sexes are negligible. But a glance at the top R&D positions in Big Pharma leaves little doubt that upward migration in the executive ranks of biopharma R&D is tough.

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FDA Vas­cepa re­view spot­lights new safe­ty sig­nals, pos­si­ble min­er­al oil spoil­er as Amarin hunts a block­buster ap­proval

An in-house FDA review of Amarin’s Vascepa raises a set of hurdles the biotech will have to clear if the biotech expects to get the long-awaited FDA approval that could set it on a path to superstar status. But it appears that Amarin has survived another potential setback without introducing a major new threat to its prospects.
The stakes don’t get much higher, with analysts saying a win this week for Amarin could lead to billions in new sales — provided the agency stamps it with an OK. And investors liked what they say in the FDA review this morning, bumping the stock $AMRN 17%.
The insider take at the agency includes a note on two new safety signals seen in the big cardio outcomes study of the omega-3 fatty acid drug that shocked many analysts with a solid set of efficacy data. There’s a key concern over whether the use of mineral oil in the placebo skewed LDL levels in such a way that tilted the data in Amarin’s favor.
The FDA overview was written by John Sharretts, the acting deputy director in the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products. 
On the safety side, the internal review focused on a 3.1% versus 2.1% rate of adjudicated events of atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter requiring hospitalization. But they also say a-fib shouldn’t confound the benefit-safety of the drug — given the improvement on MACE — or prevent its use. And then there was also a higher rate of bleeding events in the drug arm.

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FDA puts Sol­id Bio’s lead gene ther­a­py pro­gram on hold — again — af­ter an­oth­er pa­tient is hurt by SGT-001

Solid Biosciences continues to be plagued by safety issues.

Close to 18 months after the gene therapy biotech was able to quickly shed an FDA hold on their lead Duchenne muscular dystrophy program for SGT-001, regulators have stepped back in to force another halt after another patient was hit hard by a set of serious adverse events remarkably similar to the first set.

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Bill Haney, Skyhawk

Cel­gene ex­ecs shell out $92M cash for a pair of R&D deals that will fit per­fect­ly in their new home at Bris­tol-My­ers

With Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Celgene buyout all but complete, the BD teams are working in perfect synchrony now. The Celgene side is going back to Skyhawk, a darling of the crowd that set out to drug RNA, and they’re adding a suite of new programs that mesh perfectly with the new regime in charge.

Celgene is shelling out $80 million in a cash upfront to add oncology, immuno-oncology and autoimmune diseases to the initial roundup of neurological targets mapped early in Skyhawk’s existence.

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Reata's bar­dox­olone of­fers promise in pa­tients with rare kid­ney dis­or­der

After surprising Wall Street with positive data on its drug, omaveloxolone, in patients suffering from a notoriously hard-to-treat degenerative neuromuscular disorder last month, Reata Pharma on Monday unveiled pivotal results from a trial testing another drug, bardoxolone, in patients with a rare, genetic form of chronic kidney disease for which there exist no approved therapies.

Bardoxolone, like Reata’s other lead drug — omaveloxolone — is a small molecule engineered to bind to a gene called Keap1 to enhance the activity of the protein Nrf2 in order to defuse inflammation.

Kad­mon wax­es rhap­sod­ic on cGVHD re­sults as race with Jakafi heats up

A year ago, Kadmon piqued cautious interest and sent its stock up 20% when it announced positive results from a tiny proof-of-concept study on a new, chronic graft-versus-host-disease treatment. Now interim results are out on the pivotal, and not just the biotech’s executives are gushing about it.

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ARCH-backed Chi­nese biotech scores PhI­II win for glu­cok­i­nase-mod­u­lat­ing di­a­betes drug

When ARCH Venture Partners helped launch Hua Medicine with former Roche exec Li Chen, it marked one of the first bets on a Chinese biotech to deliver a world-class diabetes drug. Eight years later, their lead drug appears to have turned the corner and entered the final stretch.

Late on Monday night Shanghai time — where it’s based — Hua unveiled positive data from the first part of its pivotal study of dorzagliatin, celebrating a win on the primary endpoint as well as decent safety results.

US Capitol (Arsalan Arif for Endpoints News)

Vot­ers say Con­gress needs to curb drug prices. So why do the odds look grim for ma­jor leg­is­la­tion this year?

House Democrats are poised to pass sweeping legislation to lower drug prices using strategies President Donald Trump has endorsed. A Trump aide urged the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on a different package curbing drug prices that was drafted by a senior Republican.

But at least right now, neither measure appears likely to attract enough bipartisan support to become law.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, with voters from both parties agreeing that reducing the cost of prescription drugs should be one of Congress’ top priorities, according to a poll last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)