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)

How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

UP­DAT­ED: Pan­el of neu­ro­science ex­perts lays out the com­pli­ca­tions with us­ing Bio­gen's new Alzheimer's drug

Treatment of early Alzheimer’s patients with Biogen’s new drug Aduhelm should closely resemble how the drug was studied in its pivotal clinical trials, according to new recommendations from a panel of neuroscience experts led by UNLV’s Jeffrey Cummings.

“Those considering aducanumab therapy should understand that the expected benefit is slowing of cognitive and functional decline; improvement of the current clinical state is not anticipated,” they wrote Tuesday in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, noting that some of their recommendations are more specific or more restrictive than the information provided in the FDA’s prescribing information.

Christophe Weber, Takeda CEO (Kyodo via AP Images)

Take­da flesh­es out CNS pact with pep­tide drug­mak­er, set­ting aside $3.5B in fu­ture mile­stones

One of a suite of drugmakers looking to reinvest in the neuroscience space, Takeda has been aggressive in signing on new partners to help build up its pipeline in that space. But sometimes the best partner is the one you already have.

Takeda will set aside $3.5 billion in future milestones and an undisclosed upfront payment to build out its drug discovery deal with Japanese peptide conjugate maker PeptiDream, adding neurodegeneration to the partnership’s list of CNS targets, the companies said Tuesday.

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George Yancopoulos, Regeneron

Re­gen­eron's lat­est ge­net­ics dis­cov­ery hooks As­traZeneca — now all-in on de­vel­op­ing small mol­e­cules for obe­si­ty

Just weeks after its widely lauded genetics research arm tagged a promising new target for obesity, Regeneron has signed up an industry heavyweight to collaborate with on developing new drugs that can potentially act as a game-changer in what has proven to be a tough field for developers.

The Regeneron Genetics Center published a paper in Science at the beginning of this month highlighting how their work sequencing the genomes of 650,000 people highlighted how people with at least 1 inactive copy of the GPR75 gene weighed on average 12 pounds less than the rest of the population with a 54% reduction in risk of obesity.

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