Adam Russell, ARPA-H's incoming acting deputy director

NI­H's new, in­de­pen­dent break­through drug ac­cel­er­a­tor ARPA-H gets its first em­ploy­ee

De­spite the con­tro­ver­sy of hous­ing it in NIH, HHS Sec­re­tary Xavier Be­cer­ra on Wednes­day af­ter­noon for­mal­ly an­nounced the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­ject Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ty with­in the NIH, as HHS had pre­vi­ous­ly stip­u­lat­ed that “NIH may not sub­ject ARPA-H to NIH poli­cies.”

Xavier Be­cer­ra

Be­cer­ra al­so an­nounced the ap­point­ment of ARPA-H’s in­au­gur­al em­ploy­ee, Adam Rus­sell, who will serve as act­ing deputy di­rec­tor.

Be­gin­ning next month, Rus­sell, a for­mer DARPA man­ag­er and a Rhodes Schol­ar at Ox­ford, will be­gin to con­struct a new agency that has eyed big, trans­for­ma­tive work in the life sci­ences space from the be­gin­ning, con­tin­u­al­ly promis­ing “high-risk, high-re­ward re­search” on hard-to- or ex­pen­sive-to-treat dis­eases, with promis­es of “bio­med­ical and health break­throughs.”

“ARPA-H will: Rev­o­lu­tion­ize how we pre­vent, treat, or cure a range of dis­eases, in­clud­ing can­cer, in­fec­tious dis­eases, Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and oth­er dis­eases that have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on Amer­i­cans’ health and qual­i­ty of life,” the agency’s new fact sheet says.

But at least ini­tial­ly, that’s like­ly to be a heavy lift for a small gov­ern­ment agency that cur­rent­ly on­ly has $1 bil­lion from Con­gress to get start­ed. Pres­i­dent Joe Biden had ini­tial­ly re­quest­ed $6.5 bil­lion for the NIH-housed re­search out­fit, which is go­ing to mir­ror DARPA, in some sense, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en its first em­ploy­ee.

Con­gress may al­lot more mon­ey to ARPA-H as the House En­er­gy & Com­merce Com­mit­tee ad­vanced a bill last week that would pro­vide $500 mil­lion per year to the agency from 2023 through 2027.

Rus­sell, who’s cur­rent­ly the chief sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land’s Ap­plied Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ry for In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­ri­ty, spent more than a decade as a pro­gram man­ag­er, first at the In­tel­li­gence Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Ac­tiv­i­ty (IARPA) and then at DARPA. Ac­cord­ing to HHS, Rus­sell’s work at DARPA fo­cused on “ex­per­i­men­tal plat­forms and tools to fa­cil­i­tate dis­cov­ery, quan­tifi­ca­tion and ‘big val­i­da­tion’ of fun­da­men­tal mea­sures in so­cial sci­ence, be­hav­ioral sci­ence and hu­man per­for­mance.”

“With broad tech­ni­cal and man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence across sev­er­al dis­ci­plines, rang­ing from cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science and phys­i­ol­o­gy to cul­tur­al psy­chol­o­gy and so­cial an­thro­pol­o­gy, Dr. Rus­sell will guide the ear­ly stages of build­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture of the agency and over­see the hir­ing of ini­tial op­er­a­tional staff to en­sure the agency is stood up as ef­fec­tive­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble,” Be­cer­ra said in a state­ment.

He al­so said Biden will ap­point (no time­line an­nounced) an ARPA-H di­rec­tor who will be re­spon­si­ble for the ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­er­a­tion of ARPA-H and will re­port to the HHS Sec­re­tary.

Biden al­so has a gap to fill at the NIH di­rec­tor po­si­tion too, as for­mer di­rec­tor Fran­cis Collins stepped down, but then re-en­tered the pub­lic sphere to help out fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Er­ic Lan­der, who re­signed from the White House Of­fice of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy af­ter de­mean­ing and dis­re­spect­ing col­leagues.

Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis de­tails plans to axe 8,000 staffers as Narasimhan be­gins sec­ond phase of a glob­al re­org

We now know the number of jobs coming under the axe at Novartis, and it isn’t small.

The pharma giant is confirming a report from Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that it is chopping 8,000 jobs out of its 108,000 global staffers. A large segment will hit right at company headquarters in Basel, as CEO Vas Narasimhan axes some 1,400 of a little more than 11,000  jobs in Switzerland.

The first phase of the work is almost done, the company says in a statement to Endpoints News. Now it’s on to phase two. In the statement, Novartis says:

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Bob Nelsen (Lyell)

As bear mar­ket con­tin­ues to beat down biotech, ARCH clos­es a $3B ear­ly-stage fund

One of the biggest names in biotech investing has a whole lot of new money to spend.

ARCH Venture Partners closed its 12th venture fund early Wednesday morning, the firm said, bringing in almost $3 billion to invest in early-stage biotechs. The move comes about a year and a half after ARCH announced its previous fund, for almost $2 billion back in January 2021.

In a statement, ARCH managing director and co-founder Bob Nelsen appeared to brush off concerns about the broader market troubles, alluding to the downturn that’s seen several biotechs downsize and the XBI fall back to almost pre-pandemic levels.

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Lina Gugucheva, NewAmsterdam Pharma CBO

Phar­ma group bets up to $1B-plus on the PhI­II res­ur­rec­tion of a once dead-and-buried LDL drug

Close to 5 years after then-Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper tamped the last spade of dirt on the last broadly focused CETP cholesterol drug — burying their $300 million upfront and the few remaining hopes for the class with it — the therapy has been fully resurrected. And today, the NewAmsterdam Pharma crew that did the Lazarus treatment on obicetrapib is taking another big step on the comeback trail with a €1 billion-plus regional licensing deal, complete with close to $150 million in upfront cash.

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How pre­pared is bio­phar­ma for the cy­ber dooms­day?

One of the largest cyberattacks in history happened on a Friday, Eric Perakslis distinctly remembers.

Perakslis, who was head of Takeda’s R&D Data Sciences Institute and visiting faculty at Harvard Medical School at the time, had spent that morning completing a review on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal. Moments after he turned it in, he heard back from the editor: “Have you heard what’s going on right now?”

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Sanofi to cut in­sulin prices for unin­sured from $99 to $35, match­ing the in­sulin cap com­ing through Con­gress

As the House-passed bill to cap the monthly price of insulin at $35 nationwide makes its way for a Senate vote soon, Sanofi announced Wednesday morning that beginning next month it will cut the monthly price of its insulins for uninsured Americans to $35, down from $99 previously.

The announcement from Sanofi, which allows the uninsured to buy one or multiple Sanofi insulins (Lantus, Insulin Glargine U-100, Toujeo, Admelog, and Apidra) at $35 for a 30-day supply effective July 1, follows House passage (232-193) of the monthly cap in March, with just 12 Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

Hank Safferstein, Generian CEO

Astel­las sub­sidiary to part­ner with Pitts­burgh up­start in search for 'un­drug­gable' pro­teins

As Astellas continues its drive to build out its gene therapy portfolio and capabilities, a subsidiary of the Japanese pharma company has entered into a collaboration with a little-known Pittsburgh biotech.

Astellas-owned Mitobridge and Generian Pharmaceuticals announced on Wednesday that they will work together in a new deal for “undruggable” protein targets. Generian will net an undisclosed upfront payment and could get up to $180 million in milestones, should anything from its platform prove successful, as well as single-digit royalties on global net sales.

Adam Simpson, Icosavax CEO

Reel­ing from Covid flop, Icosavax says its RSV can­di­date passed ear­ly test. But in­vestors need some more con­vinc­ing

Three months separated from a disappointing readout of its Covid-19 vaccine, Icosavax is back with what it calls positive topline data for a different VLP vaccine candidate — although investors aren’t impressed.

IVX-121, a vaccine candidate for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), appeared to generate “robust” immune responses among both young and older adults, as measured by neutralizing antibodies, and appeared generally well-tolerated, Icosavax reported.

Pearl Huang, Dunad Therapeutics CEO (Ken Richardson, PR Newswire)

Long­time biotech leader Pearl Huang takes the reins as CEO of No­var­tis-backed up­start

It has only been a few months since Pearl Huang exited the top seat at Cygnal Therapeutics, but now she’s back at the helm of another biotech.

After taking a few months off — passing an exam in that time to get her captain’s license from the US Coast Guard — she’s been named CEO of Dunad Therapeutics, a biotech focused on developing a small molecule covalent therapies that was founded in 2020. Huang told Endpoints News that two factors attracted her to going back to the c-suite: the company’s technology and its co-founders.

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(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Some phar­ma com­pa­nies promise to cov­er abor­tion-re­lat­ed trav­el costs — while oth­ers won't go that far yet

As the US Department of Health and Human Services promises to support the millions of women who would now need to cross state lines to receive a legal abortion, a handful of pharma companies have said they will pick up employees’ travel expenses.

GSK, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, BeiGene, Alnylam and Gilead have all committed to covering abortion-related travel expenses just four days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and revoked women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

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