News brief­ing: Tiny Vac­cinex's drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton's tri­al, stock craters; Siol­ta nabs $30M Se­ries B to de­vel­op mi­cro­bio­me drug

Siol­ta Ther­a­peu­tics, a mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­ny tar­get­ing al­ler­gic dis­eases, raked in a $30 mil­lion Se­ries B to de­vel­op its lead can­di­date, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is head­ed for proof-of-con­cept tri­als, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny. Its var­i­ous in­di­ca­tions in­clude al­ler­gic asth­ma, food al­ler­gies, atopic der­mati­tis, al­ler­gic rhini­tis, and al­ler­gy pre­ven­tion.

The news comes just af­ter the Cal­i­for­nia-based biotech added a promi­nent bio­phar­ma vet­er­an as an ad­vi­sor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Mar­tin. The biotech al­so gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Pro­tag­o­nist Ther­a­peu­tics.

Marc Be­nioff, CEO of the soft­ware gi­ant Sales­force, in­vest­ed in the com­pa­ny’s Se­ries A and re­turned to chip in to the B round. Khosla Ven­tures, Sev­en­ture (Health for Life Cap­i­tal Fund), Sym­Bio­sis, and Glob­al Brain (Kirin Health In­no­va­tion Fund/GB-VII) al­so pitched in.

Vac­cinex drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease tri­al

Vac­cinex $VC­NX an­nounced its drug pepinemab missed both pri­ma­ry end­points in a Phase II tri­al for ear­ly man­i­fest and pro­dro­mal Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, caus­ing its stock to plunge more than 57% on Tues­day morn­ing.

Pepinemab didn’t show sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance com­pared to a place­bo in two as­sess­ments from the Hunt­ing­ton’s Dis­ease Cog­ni­tive As­sess­ment Bat­tery and Clin­i­cal Glob­al Im­pres­sion of Change (CG­IC), ac­cord­ing to topline da­ta. The hu­man­ized mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body is de­signed to bind and block the ac­tiv­i­ty of sem­a­phorin 4D. De­spite the fail­ure, CEO Mau­rice Za­ud­er­er said the re­sults sug­gest the an­ti­body po­ten­tial­ly tar­gets cor­ti­cal cen­ters, which might ben­e­fit pa­tients at a more ad­vanced stage of HD. This study co­hort in­clud­ed 179 par­tic­i­pants.

“The in­sights gained from this study al­so sug­gest that pepinemab might be an im­por­tant treat­ment op­tion for Alzheimer’s and oth­er neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases known to pri­mar­i­ly af­fect frontal cor­tex and to im­pact cog­ni­tion,” Za­ud­er­er hoped in a state­ment.

Vac­cinex says it’s look­ing to en­roll pa­tients this month in a new Alzheimer’s dis­ease study of pepinemab at 15 sites in the US.

The biotech’s shares dipped to $2.36 apiece on Tues­day, down from $5.47 at close on Mon­day.

Ex-CRO boss scores vet­er­an VCs and $59M for his Eu­ro-fo­cused fund

Hav­ing worked with hun­dreds of biotechs as a clin­i­cal tri­al ser­vice provider, Novotech founder Alek Sa­far­i­an is piv­ot­ing to a new ca­reer in ven­ture cap­i­tal.

His firm, AL­SA Ven­tures, has raised $59 mil­lion for the first close of a Eu­rope-fo­cused fund. The fi­nal tar­get? $150 mil­lion.

With the ex­cep­tion of chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer Graeme Mar­tin, the AL­SA team is based in Lon­don, scout­ing dis­cov­ery stage to late pre­clin­i­cal star­tups that could use their help speed­ing up a move in­to the clin­ic. Mar­tin, the for­mer CEO of Take­da Ven­tures, is based in Pa­lo Al­to.

So far they have al­ready backed three com­pa­nies: UK based Ep­silo­gen and Ox­ford Bio­ther­a­peu­tics, as well as the Bel­gian start­up Mon­tis Bio­sciences. All are tack­ling can­cer from dif­fer­ent an­gles.

That said, “we’re ag­nos­tic to modal­i­ty or ther­a­peu­tic area,” Sa­far­i­an not­ed in a state­ment.

ALX and Mer­ck col­lab­o­rate on car­ci­no­ma com­bo

ALX On­col­o­gy is team­ing up with Mer­ck to study its CD47 block­er ALX148 in com­bi­na­tion with Keytru­da to treat head and neck squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma (HN­SCC).

As part of the agree­ment, ALX will con­duct two Phase II stud­ies: one to test the two drugs as a first-line treat­ment in pa­tients with PD-L1 ex­press­ing metasta­t­ic or un­re­sectable re­cur­rent HN­SCC, and an­oth­er to test a cock­tail with the two drugs plus stan­dard chemother­a­py as a first-line treat­ment for metasta­t­ic or un­re­sectable re­cur­rent HN­SCC.

The stud­ies are based on Phase Ib da­ta re­leased at AS­CO 2020, which showed that ALX148 plus Keytru­da achieved a 40% ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate and a me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival of 4.6 months in HN­SCC pa­tients who re­ceived pri­or treat­ment.

MedTech clinical trials require a unique regulatory and study design approach and so engaging a highly experienced CRO to ensure compliance and accurate data across all stages is critical to development milestones.

In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

Avance Clinical is the Australian CRO for international biotechs providing world-class clinical research services with FDA-accepted data across all phases. With Avance Clinical, biotech companies can leverage Australia’s supportive clinical trials environment which includes no IND requirement plus a 43.5% Government incentive rebate on clinical spend. The CRO has been delivering clinical drug development services for international biotechs for FDA and EMA regulatory approval for the past 24 years. The company has been recognized for the past two consecutive years with the prestigious Frost & Sullivan CRO Best Practices Award and a finalist in Informa Pharma’s Best CRO award for 2022.

Ted Love, Global Blood Therapeutics CEO

Up­dat­ed: Pfiz­er scoops up Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics and its sick­le cell ther­a­pies for $5.4B

Pfizer is dropping $5.4 billion to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics.

Just ahead of the weekend, word got out that Pfizer was close to clinching a $5 billion buyout — albeit with other potential buyers still at the table. The pharma giant, flush with cash from Covid-19 vaccine sales, apparently got out on top.

The deal immediately swells Pfizer’s previously tiny sickle cell disease portfolio from just a Phase I program to one with an approved drug, Oxbryta, plus a whole pipeline that, if all approved, the company believes could make for a $3 billion franchise at peak.

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BREAK­ING: Math­ai Mam­men makes an abrupt ex­it as head of the big R&D group at J&J

In an after-the-bell shocker, J&J announced Monday evening that Mathai Mammen has abruptly exited J&J as head of its top-10 R&D group.

Recruited from Merck 5 years ago, where the soft spoken Mammen was being groomed as the successor to Roger Perlmutter, he had been one of the top-paid R&D chiefs in biopharma. His group spent $12 billion last year on drug development, putting it in the top 5 in the industry.

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No­vavax shares shred­ded as Covid vac­cine sales fall more than 90% in Q2

Months after Novavax celebrated its first profitable quarter as a commercial company, the Gaithersburg, MD-based company is back in the red.

Sales for Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine slipped to $55 million last quarter, down from $586 million in Q1, CEO Stanley Erck revealed on Monday after market close. The company’s stock $NVAX plummeted more than 32% in after-hours trading.

Upon kicking off the call with analysts and investors, Erck addressed the elephant in the room:

Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

De­spite falling Covid-19 sales, BioN­Tech main­tains '22 sales guid­ance

While Pfizer raked in almost $28 billion last quarter, its Covid-19 vaccine partner BioNTech reported a rise in total dose orders but a drop in sales.

The German biotech reported over $3.2 billion in revenue in Q2 on Monday, down from more than $6.7 billion in Q1, in part due to falling Covid sales. While management said last quarter that they anticipated a Covid sales drop — CEO Uğur Şahin said at the time that “the pandemic situation is still very much uncertain” — Q2 sales still missed consensus by 14%.

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FDA commissioner Rob Califf (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

With drug pric­ing al­most done, Con­gress looks to wrap up FDA user fee leg­is­la­tion

The Senate won’t return from its summer recess until Sept. 6, but when it does, it officially has 18 business days to finalize the reauthorization of the FDA user fee programs for the next 5 years, or else thousands of drug and biologics reviewers will be laid off and PDUFA dates will vanish in the interim.

FDA commissioner Rob Califf recently sent agency staff a memo explaining how, “Our latest estimates are that we have carryover for PDUFA [Prescription Drug User Fee Act], the user fee funding program that will run out of funding first, to cover only about 5 weeks into the next fiscal year.”

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (David Zorrakino/Europa Press via AP Images)

As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi Sankyo sprint to mar­ket af­ter FDA clears En­her­tu in just two weeks

Regulators didn’t keep AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo waiting long at all for their latest Enhertu approval.

The partners pulled a win on Friday in HER2-low breast cancer patients who’ve already failed on chemotherapy, less than two weeks after its supplemental BLA was accepted. While this isn’t the FDA’s fastest approval — Bristol Myers Squibb won an OK for its blockbuster checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo in just five days back in March — it comes well ahead of Enhertu’s original Q4 PDUFA date.

Bernhardt Zeiher, outgoing Astellas CMO (Astellas)

Q&A: Astel­las' re­tir­ing head of de­vel­op­ment re­flects on gene ther­a­py deaths

For anyone who’s been following discussions about the safety alarms surrounding the adeno-associated viruses (AAV) commonly used to deliver gene therapy, Astellas should be a familiar name.

The Japanese pharma — which bought out Audentes Therapeutics near the end of 2019 and later built a gene therapy unit around the acquisition — rocked the field when it reported three patient deaths in a trial testing AT132, the lead program from Audentes designed to treat a rare muscle disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy (XLMTM).

When the company restarted the trial, it adjusted the dose and instituted a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But tragically, the first patient to receive the new regimen died just weeks after administration. The therapy remains under clinical hold, and just weeks ago, Astellas flagged another safety-related hold for a separate gene therapy candidate. In the process of investigating the deaths, the company has also taken flak about the way it disclosed information.

Big questions remain — questions that can have big implications about the future of AAV gene therapies.

Bernhardt Zeiher did not imagine any of it when he first joined Astellas as the therapeutic area leader in inflammation, immunology and infectious diseases. But his ascent to chief medical officer and head of development coincided almost exactly with Astellas’ big move into gene therapy, putting him often in the driver’s seat to grapple with the setbacks.

As Zeiher prepares to retire next month after a 12-year tenure — leaving the unfinished tasks to his successor, a seasoned cancer drug developer — he chatted with Endpoints News, in part, to discuss the effort to understand what happened, lessons learned and the criticism along the way.

The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Endpoints: I want to also ask you a bit about the gene therapy efforts you’ve been working on. Astellas has really been at the forefront of discovering the safety concerns associated with AAV gene therapy. What’s that been like for you?

Zeiher: Well, I have to admit, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. We acquired Audentes. Huge amount of enthusiasm. What we saw with AT132 — that was the lead program in XLMTM — was just remarkable efficacy. I mean, kids who went from being on ventilators, not able to eat for themselves, sit up, do things like that, to off ventilators, walking, you know, really — one investigator called it this Lazarus-like effect. It was just really dramatic efficacy. And then to have the safety events that occurred. So they actually occurred within that first year of the acquisition. So we had the three patient deaths. Me and my organization became very, very much involved. In fact, Ed Conner, who had been the chief medical officer, he left after some of the deaths, but I stepped in as the kind of acting chief medical officer, we had another chief medical officer who was involved, and then we had a fourth death, and I became acting again for a period of time.

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Clo­vis says it needs mon­ey af­ter re­verse split vot­ed down; Cin­Cor touts PhII da­ta for hy­per­ten­sion drug

Clovis Oncology needs a serious leg up after posting a $71.3 million net loss in Q2.

According to the company’s Q2 report, based on its current cash, cash equivalents and liquidity the company will need to raise additional capital in the near term to continue going on beyond February of next year.

A proposed reverse stock split of Clovis’ common stock, which would have freed up more capital, was not approved at its annual meeting of stockholders. The company said in the report it is looking at other sources of funding such as strategic partnerships or licensing arrangements for one or more of its products or candidates.