Amanda Wagner, Immunitas CEO

Out to prove the next big I/O tar­get, Im­mu­ni­tas' chief deal­mak­er steps up to CEO role

To Aman­da Wag­n­er, the past two years or so she’s spent at Im­mu­ni­tas feels like a mi­cro­cosm of her en­tire ca­reer up to now.

Trained in neu­ro­science and equipped with an MBA, Wag­n­er’s 16-year bio­phar­ma ca­reer could be split in­to a first half in R&D and a sec­ond in cor­po­rate fi­nance and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment. She was con­sult­ing for the Long­wood Fund in 2019 when the VC firm pulled her aside to talk about a new im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny it was in­cu­bat­ing.

Kai Wucherpfen­nig

“I was like, we can do I/O, but it has to be re­al­ly high­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed,” she re­called.

She was in­vit­ed to check out the da­ta for her­self. In a pa­per that would even­tu­al­ly be pub­lished in Cell, co-founder Kai Wucherpfen­nig and his lab showed how, us­ing a sin­gle-cell se­quenc­ing and analy­sis plat­form, they iden­ti­fied a new I/O tar­get — CD161 — that can re­store the can­cer-killing pow­er of both ef­fec­tor mem­o­ry T cells and NK cells.

And now that’s got her hooked for the long haul. Af­ter two years as chief busi­ness of­fi­cer, Wag­n­er will be tak­ing over the wheels as CEO.

“I’ve played mul­ti­ple hats with the com­pa­ny, as you do at most star­tups,” she said. “When I first came on board, my pri­ma­ry role was to look at clin­i­cal in­di­ca­tion strat­e­gy, and to think about where the best fit would be for the bi­ol­o­gy. And I’m a big be­liev­er, in gen­er­al, of best fit bi­ol­o­gy. And so I worked on the in­di­ca­tion pri­or­i­ti­za­tion and built out the de­vel­op­ment team, and then tran­si­tioned in­to look­ing at busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and part­ner­ing and the Se­ries B fi­nanc­ing.”

Jef­frey Gold­berg

Her pro­mo­tion, which fol­lows the re­cent close of a $58 mil­lion round, comes as a nat­ur­al tran­si­tion up­on the res­ig­na­tion of Jef­frey Gold­berg, her pre­de­ces­sor and for­mer COO at Akcea. Over the course of grow­ing the biotech, Wag­n­er said, Gold­berg came to re­al­ize he was much more in­ter­est­ed in things like pa­tient ac­cess, mar­ket ac­cess re­im­burse­ment and com­mer­cial po­si­tion­ing. Im­mu­ni­tas was too ear­ly.

With Im­mu­ni­tas be­ing her fourth start­up (the last was At­las-backed Q32 Bio, which was still in stealth), Wag­n­er’s march­ing or­ders are push­ing as hard as the biotech’s 25 staffers can get to put the lead CD161 com­pound in­to the clin­ic while scal­ing out the plat­form and ex­pand­ing the pipeline in the back­ground — the kind of trans­la­tion­al work that’s ex­act­ly in her wheel­house.

“I find that the pri­or­i­ties for ear­ly stage biotech tend to be very sim­i­lar in the first few years,” she said.

With an IND for the lead pro­gram planned for the first half of 2022, Wag­n­er said she’s tak­ing over at an “ex­cit­ing growth mo­ment.” Im­mu­ni­tas is al­ready in­ter­view­ing for her re­place­ment in BD, scout­ing part­ners on every­thing from the CD161 drug — which it thinks has much broad­er ap­pli­ca­tions than glioma, where it was ini­tial­ly shown to have an ef­fect — to fol­low-up can­di­dates and dis­cov­ery projects.

“We’re the strongest we’ve ever been,” she said.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

John Roberts, exiting Vyant Bio CEO

Neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech Vyant warns of po­ten­tial wind-down

The CEO and chief scientific officer of Vyant Bio are out the door as the little-known but publicly-listed neurodegenerative biotech searches for an exit or, if all else fails, a wind-down.

The soul-searching bookends a winding journey for the biotech, which rebranded and transitioned from diagnostics company Cancer Genetics in 2021 after a merger with StemoniX. That came after a failed merger attempt with NovellusDx (now Fore Biotherapeutics) in 2018. In the last few years, units have been sold off and the stock price $VYNT has plummeted from the $30 range to penny stock territory.

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Sanofi scraps PhI­II tri­al for Prin­cip­ia drug af­ter re­view­ing com­pe­ti­tion

Months after the FDA placed Phase III trials of Sanofi’s BTK inhibitor on hold, the company is winding down one of the studies.

Sanofi reported in its Q4 earnings that the URSA study “was discontinued after careful evaluation of the emerging competitive treatment landscape in” myasthenia gravis, a rare disease that causes muscle weakness.

The Phase III, placebo-controlled trial was testing tolebrutinib in patients with the moderate-to-severe form of the disease. It started in late 2021, according to records on clinicaltrials.gov, and was originally designed to recruit 154 participants who were receiving the standard of care.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Medicago's vaccine greenhouse (Medicago via YouTube)

Cana­di­an plant-based vac­cine de­vel­op­er Med­ica­go shut­ters months af­ter lay­offs

Plant-based Covid-19 vaccine developer Medicago shut down this week with little fanfare. And its two subsidiaries, Medicago R&D and Medicago USA, are also closing their doors, according to a company news release.

The lone shareholder left standing, Japan-based Mitsubishi Chemical Group, “has determined not to make further investments in Medicago and to proceed with an orderly wind-up of its business and operations in Canada and in the United States.”

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Simba Gill, Evelo Biosciences CEO

Sim­ba Gill stay­ing on at Evelo to weath­er lay­offs and a PhII fail

Simba Gill will be staying put as CEO of Evelo Biosciences for now.

Gill announced last year that he would be leaving the head position at Evelo to take on the role of executive partner at Flagship Pioneering. He was aiming to stay on until a successor was selected, but there’s a new course of action in the wake of a Phase II miss and a reduced headcount.

“I want to emphasize that I remain personally committed to Evelo and staying on to lead the organization. I continue to believe that Evelo is a remarkable opportunity in terms of the science, the platform, the type of products that we’re able to produce, and most importantly, the potential of millions of patients suffering from all stages of inflammatory disease,” Gill said on a conference call.

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