News brief­ing: Ab­b­Vie se­lects first tar­get for Drag­on­fly part­ner­ship; Cog­ni­to nets BDD for Alzheimer's treat­ment de­vice

Drag­on­fly’s part­ner­ship with Ab­b­Vie is be­gin­ning to bear fruit.

Ab­b­Vie has se­lect­ed its first NK cell en­gager-based im­munother­a­py as part of the deal, trig­ger­ing an undis­closed opt-in pay­ment, the com­pa­nies an­nounced Tues­day. Ab­b­Vie will gain ex­clu­sive world­wide rights to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize prod­ucts di­rect­ed to this first tar­get, which is al­so undis­closed, and Drag­on­fly be­comes el­i­gi­ble for fu­ture mile­stones and roy­al­ties.

“This opt-in, so soon af­ter launch­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tion, is a great vote of con­fi­dence,” Drag­on­fly CEO Bill Haney said in a state­ment. “We look for­ward to con­tin­ued suc­cess and rapid progress with the Ab­b­Vie team.”

The pair signed their col­lab­o­ra­tion back in No­vem­ber 2019. So far, all of Drag­on­fly’s col­lab­o­ra­tions have net­ted $800 mil­lion in up­front pay­ments and ear­ly mile­stones. The biotech is el­i­gi­ble for up to $17 bil­lion in to­tal mile­stones should it achieve them all.

Tues­day’s se­lec­tion comes out of Drag­on­fly’s TriN­KET plat­form, build­ing tri-spe­cif­ic NK cell en­gager ther­a­pies. Drag­on­fly has al­so signed on to three deals with Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, the most re­cent of which came last Ju­ly, and two with Mer­ck. — Max Gel­man

FDA grants Cog­ni­to break­through des­ig­na­tion in Alzheimer’s

Cog­ni­to Ther­a­peu­tics has re­ceived a break­through de­vice des­ig­na­tion for one of the tough­est fields in the in­dus­try — Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

The FDA hand­ed down the des­ig­na­tion Tues­day morn­ing, Cog­ni­to an­nounced, say­ing the agency is plan­ning to re­view its lead prod­uct for the treat­ment of cog­ni­tive and func­tion­al symp­toms as­so­ci­at­ed with Alzheimer’s.

Cog­ni­to says it has de­vel­oped a non-in­va­sive de­vice that us­es gam­ma fre­quen­cy tech­nol­o­gy to stem Alzheimer’s symp­toms. Re­searchers at the com­pa­ny say they found stim­u­lat­ing the brain at a spe­cif­ic fre­quen­cy had the ef­fect of re­ac­ti­vat­ing the im­mune sys­tem in the brain, cor­re­lat­ing with a re­duc­tion in amy­loid plaques and tau tan­gles.

In prac­tice, this could look like an Alzheimer’s pa­tient be­ing ex­posed to strobe lights and click­ing sounds. A study in mice ap­peared to show im­prove­ments in cog­ni­tive and mem­o­ry skills, per the New York Times.

With­in that study, light and sound de­liv­ered to mice at 40 hertz, or 40 flash­es or clicks per sec­ond, os­ten­si­bly syn­chro­nized with the rhythm of the brain’s gam­ma waves. That led to an in­crease in trash-clear­ing and im­mune-reg­u­lat­ing func­tions with­in the brains. — Max Gel­man

BIO chief Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath con­demns Capi­tol vi­o­lence, paus­es po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions

BIO pres­i­dent and CEO Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath has been clear about the as­so­ci­a­tion’s po­si­tion on the mob vi­o­lence on Capi­tol Hill last week. On Mon­day, she took it one step fur­ther, an­nounc­ing that BIO will pause its po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions for the time be­ing.

“As of to­day BIO will be paus­ing our po­lit­i­cal giv­ing so we can re­assess the cri­te­ria up­on which we sup­port po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates in the fu­ture. As a mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion we owe it to our mem­bers to hear their voic­es in this im­por­tant de­ci­sion,” Mc­Mur­ry-Heath said in the state­ment.

“One of the five new strate­gic pil­lars that BIO an­nounced last fall is to be the voice of and for sci­ence and at its core sci­ence is the search for truth based on ev­i­dence. So it is very con­cern­ing that some elect­ed lead­ers last week chose to ig­nore facts and em­brace wide­ly dis­cred­it­ed con­spir­a­cies which in part led to the hor­rif­ic events at the Capi­tol,” she con­tin­ued.

Last week, the CEO joined many oth­er bio­phar­ma lead­ers in con­demn­ing the vi­o­lence. “It is sim­ply un­con­scionable for an an­gry mob, up­set by an elec­tion out­come to try to dis­en­fran­chise the votes of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans sim­ply be­cause their cho­sen can­di­date lost,” she said.

Je­re­my Levin, chair­man of BIO, post­ed a sim­i­lar­ly heat­ed re­sponse on Twit­ter on Jan 6.

“Our mem­bers take this se­ri­ous­ly and so do we,” Mc­Mur­ry-Heath said in the state­ment. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

Ada­gene and NHLBI dis­cov­er new CAR-T can­di­date

Ada­gene and the Na­tion­al Heart, Lung, and Blood In­sti­tute say they’ve come up with a new kind of CAR-T can­di­date for re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma, based on an­ti­bod­ies dis­cov­ered by the Suzhou, Chi­na-based biotech.

The part­ners say the can­di­date is the first — that they’re aware of — to tar­get a hu­man en­doge­nous retro­virus (HERV) ex­pressed in the ma­jor­i­ty of clear cell kid­ney tu­mors. HERVs are rem­nants of an­cient germ-line in­fec­tions with ex­oge­nous retro­virus­es, and are es­ti­mat­ed to com­prise up to 8% of the hu­man genome.

The can­di­date was de­vel­oped in the lab of Richard Childs, chief of the NHLBI’s Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Trans­plan­ta­tion Im­munother­a­py. From here, the NIH will take over man­u­fac­tur­ing and clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

“This is an en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ment that builds on decades of re­search in our quest to find ways to adapt and en­hance im­mune cells to tar­get and kill even the most ag­gres­sive can­cers,” Childs said in a state­ment. “I look for­ward to the eval­u­a­tion and hope­ful­ly the de­vel­op­ment of this nov­el CAR-T cell and oth­er an­ti­body-based ther­a­pies in clin­i­cal tri­als.”

The can­di­date was dis­cov­ered us­ing Ada­gene’s NEO­body tech, which is part of its Dy­nam­ic Pre­ci­sion Li­brary. Last Jan­u­ary, Ada­gene nabbed a $69 mil­lion Se­ries D to ad­vance its an­ti­body work. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

FDA un­veils new draft guid­ance to help with oligonu­cleotide ther­a­peu­tics de­vel­op­ment

While oligonucleotides, a wide variety of synthetically modified RNA or RNA/DNA hybrids that bind to a target RNA sequence to alter RNA and/or protein expression, have been winning approvals in recent years (e.g. Novartis’ cholesterol drug Leqvio), the regulatory agency is offering new draft guidance for those looking to follow a similar path.

The non-binding guidance, titled “Clinical Pharmacology Considerations for the Development of Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Guidance for Industry” deals with pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, and safety assessments required as part of oligonucleotide therapeutics R&D.

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Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images)

Phar­ma-friend­ly sen­a­tor calls on FDA for a third time to show patent pro­tec­tions should­n't be blamed for high drug prices

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis made a name for himself in the 2020 election cycle as the darling of the pharma industry, accepting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions, even from the likes of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Those contributions have led Tillis to attempt to re-write patent laws in pharma’s favor, a move which failed to gain steam in 2019, and request for a third time since January that the FDA should help stop “the false narrative that patent protections are to blame for high drug prices.”