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 

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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TG Ther­a­peu­tics pre­pares to ap­proach reg­u­la­tors with MS drug; In­vestors bet $93M on a life sci­ences tools com­pa­ny

Gearing up for a battle with pharma giants, TG Therapeutics says it’s nearly ready to approach regulators with its CD20 drug for multiple sclerosis.

The biotech read out results from two Phase III trials at AAN, which show its candidate ublituximab reduced patients’ annualized relapse rate by 60% and 50% compared to Sanofi’s Aubagio, or teriflunomide — an 8-year-old drug that’s often used as a benchmark.

J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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Roche touts 2-year ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for SMA ther­a­py Evrys­di; NIH funds new net­work to study flu and virus­es with ‘pan­dem­ic po­ten­tial’

Two years after therapy, 61% of babies with spinal muscular atrophy Type 1 treated with Roche’s Evrysdi (risdiplam) were able to sit up without support for at least five seconds compared with just 29% of patients after a year, the drugmaker said Thursday.

As part of the FIREFISH-2 Phase III study, researchers tested Evrysdi’s ability to help 41 infant patients sit up without support at 5 and 30 seconds. Data showed that 44% of patients were able to sit without support for 30 seconds at the two-year check-in compared with 17% after one year.