No­vo Nordisk is whack­ing 400 R&D jobs, re­or­ga­niz­ing glob­al R&D ops around 4 “trans­for­ma­tion­al” units

No­vo Nordisk rolled out a new plan to re­vamp its glob­al R&D op­er­a­tions, slash­ing hun­dreds of jobs as it sets up new “biotech-like” re­search units in key hubs aimed at help­ing them line up new col­lab­o­ra­tions in key dis­ease fields.

Out: About 400 R&D jobs in es­tab­lished cen­ters in Den­mark and Chi­na, ax­ing out a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of staffers to make way for what No­vo is herald­ing as a dri­ve to height­ened in­no­va­tion.

In: Four new biotech groups of an un­cer­tain size — dubbed “Trans­for­ma­tion­al Re­search Units” — that will take root in Ox­ford in the UK and In­di­anapo­lis, with 2 in their home base in Copen­hagen “fo­cus­ing on stem cell re­search and bio­pharm (haema­tol­ogy and en­docrinol­o­gy dis­or­ders) projects,” ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son. The unit in In­di­anapo­lis, home town to ri­val Eli Lil­ly, will fo­cus on di­a­betes and obe­si­ty, a ma­jor theme at No­vo while the Ox­ford team con­cen­trates on car­dio-meta­bol­ic re­search.

No­vo is al­so adding a 20-per­son busi­ness unit in Cam­bridge, MA, on site in one of the world’s busiest R&D hubs work­ing new deals. No­vo ex­ecs want to build on deals like its buy­out of Ziy­lo and re­cent aca­d­e­m­ic al­liances to dig deep­er in­to new fields, like trans­la­tion­al car­dio-meta­bol­ics and stem cell re­search. And they want them up and run­ning this year.

At the same time the com­pa­ny is amp­ing up their in­vest­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing — a pop­u­lar top­ic among the ma­jor play­ers look­ing for new tools to in­crease their odds of suc­cess while im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cy in ex­pen­sive re­search groups. No­vo is al­so spend­ing more mon­ey on the IT sys­tems it us­es in the lab with the same goal in mind.

Just last week No­vo’s chief sci­en­tist Mads Krogs­gaard Thom­sen was in the UK to cel­e­brate their new open­ing of a re­search cen­ter in Ox­ford in the heart of the Gold­en Tri­an­gle de­vot­ed to cut­ting-edge di­a­betes work — the cen­ter­piece of its R&D work. No­vo is in­vest­ing about $150 mil­lion in the cen­ter over 10 years with plans to hire up to 100 peo­ple for the cen­ter.

In a fol­lowup re­sponse to a query, No­vo spelled out how it plans to pro­ceed.

These kinds of re­struc­tur­ing op­er­a­tions aren’t un­usu­al in bio­phar­ma, es­pe­cial­ly for the big­ger play­ers. Pfiz­er’s re­treat out of neu­ro­sciences re­cent­ly came at the cost of 300 jobs. As com­pa­nies shift re­search fo­cus, jobs are added and sub­tract­ed. Even Roche just whacked more than 200 jobs at Genen­tech, af­ter mak­ing a point of large­ly leav­ing South San Fran­cis­co gi­ant un­mo­lest­ed for years.

“De­liv­er­ing on our am­bi­tion of achiev­ing even high­er lev­els of in­no­va­tion across a broad­er and more di­verse range of chron­ic dis­eases re­quires that we have the op­ti­mal fu­ture skill base and al­lo­cate re­sources to our pri­or­i­ty ar­eas,” said Thom­sen. “Un­for­tu­nate­ly, this im­plies that a num­ber of val­ued col­leagues will lose their jobs in or­der to en­sure that we have suf­fi­cient new re­search ca­pa­bil­i­ties need­ed to sup­port our long-term growth am­bi­tions.”


Im­age: Mads Krogs­gaard Thom­sen No­vo Nordisk

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.

Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”