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 

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

What lured Hal Bar­ron away?; Top FDA minds on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms; ‘Dead wrong’ Aduhelm ad blitz; 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.

Nothing can really compete with Hal Barron’s departure from GlaxoSmithKline as the news of the week, but we do have plenty of original reporting and analysis from the Endpoints team in this edition. Enjoy and have a nice weekend.

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Mer­ck wins le­gal bat­tle over in­sur­ance cov­er­age af­ter ran­somware at­tack

Merck has emerged victorious from a years-long legal battle with insurers over the coverage of more than a billion dollars in losses from the malware NotPetya, with a New Jersey Superior Court judge concluding that the responsibility is on insurers to clarify their policies around cyber attacks.

The pharma giant was one of several victims of a global cyber attack back in 2017 that also hit Danish shipping company Maersk, American food company Mondelēz, French construction giant Saint-Gobain and even the systems monitoring the Chernobyl nuclear power stations, Bloomberg reported back in 2019.

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Crit­ics push back on Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion ad blitz to get Medicare to change its Aduhelm rul­ing: 'Dead wrong'

The latest Alzheimer’s Association advertising campaign encourages people to fight.

Not against the disease or for more research or treatments, but against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More specifically, CMS’ recent reimbursement decision to only pay for Biogen and Eisai’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm for patients in clinical trials.

With CMS’ preliminary decision now in a 30-day comment period, patient advocates’ goal is to convince CMS to reverse its decision with a marketing blitz and public pressure.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Fail­ing to con­firm clin­i­cal ben­e­fit, Gilead pulls 2 ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval in­di­ca­tions for can­cer drug

Gilead recently decided to pull two indications for its cancer drug Zydelig — in relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and relapsed small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL) — after failing to complete the confirmatory trials required as part of the accelerated approvals from 2014.

“As the treatment landscape for FL and SLL has evolved, enrollment into the confirmatory study has been an ongoing challenge,” Gilead said in a statement, noting it formally notified the FDA of its decision to voluntarily withdraw these indications.

Yingli Phar­ma brings small mol­e­cule re­search to the US in new pact with MD An­der­son; UCB's pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis drug shows pos­i­tive PhI­II re­sults

Shanghai biotech Yingli Pharma wants to bring its small molecule drug research global — and a new pact with MD Anderson will help it get there.

Yingli and MD Anderson have inked a 5-year collaboration deal that will put its cancer candidates — some of which have already generated data in China — into trials in the US. The lead program is linperlisib, a PI3Kδ inhibitor that’s in a Phase III trial in follicular lymphoma, according to Yingli’s website. In the US, MD Anderson will work with Yingli to put the candidate in a Phase II trial for peripheral T cell lymphoma (PTCL), an uncommon and aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Richard Pazdur (via AACR)

Time lim­its on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals? FDA's on­col­o­gy chief Rick Paz­dur eyes po­ten­tial re­forms via in­ter­na­tion­al ap­proach­es

The spotlight on the accelerated approval pathway continues to shine bright, with the FDA’s top oncology official writing in an opinion that the pathway may be strengthened with bits and pieces of what other regulators in Europe and elsewhere have done with their expedited approval pathways, such as adding expiration dates for these faster approvals to ensure they confirm clinical benefit in a timely manner.

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Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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