No min­is­ter: UK biotech com­mu­ni­ty los­es its ded­i­cat­ed gov­ern­ment min­is­ter

George Free­man de­light­ed in telling peo­ple he was the world’s “first and on­ly” min­is­ter for the life sci­ences. The ques­tion now is whether he will al­so be the last.

George Free­man

In the big gov­ern­ment reshuf­fle fol­low­ing David Cameron’s de­par­ture in the wake of the stun­ning vote in fa­vor of leav­ing the EU, Free­man now has a new task as chair of the Prime Min­is­ter’s Pol­i­cy Board.

Free­man was a biotech en­tre­pre­neur him­self in the day, once run­ning a com­pa­ny called Amedis and back­ing biotechs as the di­rec­tor of ear­ly-stage ven­tures at Mer­lin. That back­ground pro­vid­ed an en­thu­si­as­tic wel­come from the coun­try’s biotech com­mu­ni­ty, which en­joyed the at­ten­tion the min­is­ter brought to the field. And his new post has trig­gered more than a few laments on Twit­ter.

Free­man’s main task was point­ing the coun­try’s grow­ing biotech com­mu­ni­ty to a lead­ing role on the world stage, en­cour­ag­ing new projects to ac­cel­er­ate ac­cess to ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­pies and back­ing an am­bi­tious ge­nomics project that helped high­light the UK’s phar­ma R&D in­dus­try.

Free­man’s ex­it from his high pro­file life sci­ences post comes as the UK tries to fig­ure out just how dam­ag­ing Brex­it is to its biotech in­dus­try. The EU brought con­sid­er­able re­search fund­ing to the coun­try’s sci­en­tists. And set­ting up a sep­a­rate reg­u­la­to­ry struc­ture for the coun­try – if it comes down to that – would al­so rel­e­gate the coun­try to an al­so-ran po­si­tion of im­por­tance for bio­phar­ma, be­hind the U.S. and then Eu­rope.

You could feel the shiv­ers run­ning up and down the in­dus­try’s spine read­ing Kris­ten Hal­lam’s piece in Bloomberg on Brex­it’s im­pact on biotech to­day. The de­ci­sion to step out of the EU will not on­ly shrink the amount of mon­ey avail­able for re­search, it is al­ready caus­ing tal­ent­ed in­di­vid­u­als on the con­ti­nent to steer clear of the UK. As the coun­try nev­er had a chance to ful­ly de­vel­op its biotech in­dus­try, a short­age of tal­ent was al­ready an is­sue for some VCs who were re­luc­tant to in­vest in UK biotech com­pa­nies. Brex­it can on­ly make mat­ters worse.

Now, fac­ing a chilly fu­ture, the sec­tor doesn’t even have its own min­is­ter/ad­vo­cate to warm things up at No. 10 Down­ing Street.


Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line scraps a LAG3 study, mark­ing an­oth­er fail­ure for the pipeline af­ter a crit­i­cal set­back

Another gap has appeared in GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

Friday morning the Australian biotech Immutep put out word that Hal Barron’s R&D group at GSK had decided to scrap a Phase II proof-of-concept study in ulcerative colitis for their anti-LAG3 therapy GSK2831781. According to the biotech, the program didn’t survive an interim review.

The trial was stopped by GSK based on the assessment of clinical data as part of a planned interim analysis conducted in consultation with the trial’s Data Review Committee. GSK is conducting further reporting, assessment and analyses of the efficacy and safety data and evaluating the biology to determine next steps for the GSK2831781 development program.

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