Or­chard Ther­a­peu­tics prunes jobs to re­fo­cus pri­or­i­ties on big­ger fruit

In 2018, Or­chard Ther­a­peu­tics se­cured ac­cess to GSK’s pi­o­neer­ing gene ther­a­py for “bub­ble boy syn­drome,” Strimvelis, among a bas­ket of oth­er rare dis­ease pro­grams, af­ter the big British drug­mak­er de­cid­ed the slate of drugs was too niche for its ar­se­nal of treat­ments. Now, Or­chard has al­so elect­ed to steer away from “ul­tra-rare” dis­eases to pro­grams fo­cused on more preva­lent con­di­tions.

The strate­gic shift, which al­so in­cludes halt­ing con­struc­tion of a Fre­mont man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty and shut­ter­ing its Cal­i­for­nia R&D fa­cil­i­ty, has trig­gered a 25% cut in the com­pa­ny’s work­force.

“In our view, the new busi­ness plan rep­re­sents a smart repri­or­i­ti­za­tion of its com­mer­cial strat­e­gy to fo­cus on high­er yield op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­serve cash. This should re­move any need for near-term fi­nanc­ings,” Cowen’s Yaron Wer­ber wrote in a note.

Bob­by Gas­par

The Lon­don, Boston, and San Fran­cis­co-based biotech — which went pub­lic in 2018 in a bumper $200 mil­lion IPO — has a port­fo­lio of ex vi­vo gene ther­a­pies, in which a pa­tient’s stem cells are ex­tract­ed and tweaked out­side the body be­fore be­ing trans­plant­ed back in, with the aim to treat a va­ri­ety of rare im­mune and meta­bol­ic dis­eases. Founder and now chief Bob­by Gas­par was heav­i­ly in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of these hematopoi­et­ic stem cell gene ther­a­pies, bring­ing them from some of the first stud­ies in pa­tients to po­ten­tial reg­u­la­to­ry ap­provals.

GSK took a near­ly 20% stake in Or­chard in 2018, in re­turn for Strimvelis and oth­er gene-ther­a­py pro­grams. Strimvelis was one of the few ap­proved gene ther­a­pies in 2016, but up­take in the rare pa­tient pop­u­la­tion for adeno­sine deam­i­nase se­vere com­bined im­mun­od­e­fi­cien­cy (ADA-SCID) had strug­gled — the ther­a­py had on­ly been used in a hand­ful of pa­tients by 2018. In its IPO prospec­tus, Or­chard had stressed that the ther­a­py’s prod­uct rev­enue would not be enough to make the com­pa­ny prof­itable. Be­sides, Or­chard was al­so de­vel­op­ing its own ACA-SCID gene ther­a­py, OTL-101.

On Thurs­day, Or­chard said it was re­duc­ing in­vest­ment in OTL-101 and OTL-300 (its trans­fu­sion-de­pen­dent be­ta-tha­lassemia pro­gram) — to pour its re­sources in­to its pro­grams for metachro­mat­ic leukody­s­tro­phy (OTL-200), Wiskott-Aldrich syn­drome (OTL-103), Mu­copolysac­cha­ri­do­sis type I (OTL-203) and Mu­copolysac­cha­ri­do­sis type II­IA, al­so known as San­fil­ip­po syn­drome type A (OTL-201). The com­pa­ny al­so un­veiled two new pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams in fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia and Crohn’s dis­ease.

Or­chard’s US ap­pli­ca­tion to mar­ket OTL-200 may be de­layed, the com­pa­ny in­di­cat­ed on Thurs­day, as the FDA has raised ques­tions about the clin­i­cal end­points used, nat­ur­al his­to­ry da­ta and chem­istry man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­trol da­ta. The drug­mak­er plans to en­gage with the FDA this year to rem­e­dy these hic­cups be­fore mak­ing its sub­mis­sion, it said.

“As EMA raised sim­i­lar ques­tions about the clin­i­cal da­ta for OTL-200, man­age­ment is hope­ful that they have the da­ta that FDA is re­quest­ing. How­ev­er, as the meet­ing with the FDA is un­like­ly to oc­cur un­til some time in H2:20, we an­tic­i­pate that the BLA fil­ing will get de­layed,” Wer­ber wrote.

If a new phase I/II study is re­quired, the BLA fil­ing could be de­layed, he said, post­pon­ing his ex­pect­ed launch to 2024 from 2022.

Or­chard’s cash, cash equiv­a­lents and in­vest­ments as of March 31 were $263.9 mil­lion. The re­or­ga­ni­za­tion an­nounced on Thurs­day, which gen­er­at­ed cash sav­ings of ap­prox­i­mate­ly $125 mil­lion through the end of 2021, will ex­tend the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to keep the lights on in­to 2022.

So­cial: Bob­by Gas­par, Or­chard CEO (Roy­al Col­lege of Pae­di­atrics and Child Health, YouTube)

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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