PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Phar­ma, the lofty goal to un­leash a “tsuna­mi” of T cells per­son­al­ized for each pa­tient has hinged on the abil­i­ty to cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fy the neoanti­gens that form some­thing of a fin­ger­print for each tu­mor, and ex­tract the small group of T cells primed to at­tack the can­cer. It still has a long way to go test­ing a treat­ment in hu­mans, but the biotech says it has nailed that high­ly tech­ni­cal piece of the process.

Cristi­na Puig-Saus

It’s a key step in mak­ing im­muno-on­col­o­gy work for every­one be­cause sci­en­tists can now pin­point what ex­act­ly is dri­ving, say, pa­tient re­sponse to check­point in­hibitors, ac­cord­ing to the team be­hind the work — open­ing the door to elim­i­nat­ing sol­id tu­mors.

Work­ing with some im­mune cells cap­tured from a pa­tient who had a long-last­ing re­sponse to an­ti-PD-1 ther­a­py, re­searchers ran the sam­ple through their “ul­tra-sen­si­tive and high-through­put” iso­la­tion tech­nol­o­gy, dubbed im­PACT. Af­ter re­triev­ing the T cells that they be­lieve were re­spon­si­ble for the re­sponse, they en­gi­neered (with non-vi­ral gene edit­ing) oth­er T cells to ex­press those same re­cep­tors and demon­strat­ed the re­sult­ing T cells can kill the same per­son’s can­cer cells.

An­toni Ribas

With back­ing from the Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py, Cristi­na Puig-Saus led the study at UCLA, where PACT co-founder An­toni Ribas di­rects the tu­mor im­munol­o­gy pro­gram at the Jon­s­son Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter. Ribas is list­ed as a se­nior au­thor.

“We hope that a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the T cell re­spons­es that oc­cur af­ter im­mune check­point block­ade will guide the de­sign of per­son­al­ized adop­tive T cell ther­a­pies,” Puig-Saus said in a re­lease ac­com­pa­ny­ing their pre­sen­ta­tion at an AACR spe­cial con­fer­ence days ago.

Once PACT gets to clin­i­cal stud­ies — and it’s re­cruit­ing for a Phase I now — it would al­so have to show it can quick­ly ex­pand the pop­u­la­tion of those T cells and safe­ly re­in­fuse them in­to the pa­tients.

Alex Franzu­soff

“While it is ear­ly, the re­sults demon­strate the pos­si­bil­i­ty for PACT’s ap­proach to ig­nite a pa­tient’s im­mune re­sponse di­rect­ly against their unique tu­mor mu­ta­tion sig­na­ture, with­in a clin­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant time­frame, with po­ten­tial ap­plic­a­bil­i­ty to most can­cers and all eth­nic­i­ties across the globe,” CEO Alex Franzu­soff said in a state­ment.

The ap­proach puts a twist on CAR-T and next-gen TCR ther­a­pies, which rec­og­nize a fixed set of anti­gens shared among pa­tients. Can­cer vac­cines are of­ten too slow to catch up with tu­mor growth; tu­mor-in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cytes are hard to man­u­fac­ture in vast quan­ti­ties, the com­pa­ny wrote — prob­lems that oth­er star­tups such as Neon Ther­a­peu­tics and Io­vance are at­tempt­ing to ad­dress.

PACT, of course, will al­so face its own chal­lenges in ad­vanc­ing a tai­lor-made im­munother­a­py. From a pa­per quot­ed on its web­site:

Per­son­al­iz­ing the im­mune ef­fec­tors used and the can­cer anti­gens tar­get­ed will re­quire rec­on­cil­ing timescales of clin­i­cal need, on-de­mand man­u­fac­tur­ing, and reg­u­la­to­ry com­pli­ance.

With a star-stud­ded founder team — in­clud­ing Ribas, David Bal­ti­more, Jim Heath, Ter­ry Rosen and Juan Jaen — and a well-heeled syn­di­cate that’s poured in $126 mil­lion, PACT is ready to tack­le the chal­lenges head on.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

BeiGene and Mus­tang nail down spe­cial FDA sta­tus for top drugs; Roche bags added cov­er­age for Hem­li­bra

→ BeiGene $BGNE is getting a boost in its drive to field a rival to Imbruvica. The FDA has offered an accelerated review to zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor that has posted positive results for mantle cell lymphoma. The PDUFA date lands on February 27, 2020. The drug scored breakthrough status at the beginning of the year.

→ BeiGene isn’t the only biopharma company to gain special regulatory status today. Mustang Bio $MBIO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that MB-107, a lentiviral gene therapy for the treatment of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease, has been granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy status.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vives bid to get drug list prices on TV ads

The Trump administration is not giving up just yet. On Wednesday, the HHS filed an appeal against a judge’s decision in July to overturn a ruling obligating drug manufacturers to disclose the list price of their therapies in television adverts — hours before it was stipulated to go into effect.

In May, the HHS published a final ruling requiring drugmakers to divulge the wholesale acquisition cost— of a 30-day supply of the drug — in tv ads in a bid to enhance price transparency in the United States. The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed the rule, asserting that list prices are not what a typical patient in the United States pays for treatment — that number is typically determined by the type of (or lack thereof) insurance coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Although there is truth to that claim, the move was considered symbolic in the Trump administration’s healthcare agenda to hold drugmakers accountable in a climate where skyrocketing drug prices have incensed Americans on both sides of the aisle.

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll