Park­er In­sti­tute backs an up­start biotech look­ing to de­vel­op a new, con­vert­ible CAR-T

The bil­lion­aire-backed Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py is in­vest­ing and part­ner­ing with a biotech their re­searchers be­lieve has the po­ten­tial to de­vel­op a new-mod­el CAR-T that can be bet­ter guid­ed down nar­row path­ways and equipped with a con­ve­nient on/off switch to help avoid any fa­tal ac­ci­dents.

Jef­frey Blue­stone

Park­er CEO Jef­frey Blue­stone isn’t giv­ing away any num­bers right now, but he says the in­sti­tute’s eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment in Xyphos Bio­sciences “isn’t triv­ial.” The pri­ma­ry pur­pose of the in­vest­ment — and the re­search al­liance that plugs Xyphos in­to their net­work of promi­nent in­ves­ti­ga­tors — is to ac­cel­er­ate the work and pre­vent it from get­ting stuck in the R&D mud.

And I’m just get­ting start­ed with the car metaphors, so buck­le up.

What at­tract­ed Park­er to the Bay Area im­munother­a­py play­er?

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, it’s their work on con­vert­ible CAR-Ts, re­volv­ing around NKG2D re­cep­tors on sev­er­al cell types, in­clud­ing T cells and NK killer cells that have fas­ci­nat­ed the field. 

Us­ing their pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing tech, the com­pa­ny craft­ed the nat­ur­al NKG2D re­cep­tor to be in­ac­tive un­til it’s turned on by their bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body. One end of the bis­pe­cif­ic binds to the re­cep­tors on the con­vert­ible CAR-T, with the oth­er end de­signed to bind to the tar­get­ed ma­lig­nant cell. Their col­li­sion is in­tend­ed to crush the can­cer cell.

There are sev­er­al ad­van­tages to the ap­proach, Blue­stone tells me. The safe­ty as­pect is en­hanced by the “reg­u­lat­ed sys­tem” Xyphos is us­ing. “You’re con­trol­ling to T cells: You can stop en­gag­ing the tar­get” — and that off switch can be hit in the event of a sud­den cy­tokine storm that can en­gulf a pa­tient, a rou­tine threat for the pro­to­type CAR-Ts on the mar­ket.

These bis­pecifics can al­so tar­get a cell se­quen­tial­ly, shift­ing tar­gets when a pa­tient starts to de­vel­op re­sis­tance, com­mon­ly lead­ing to a re­lapse. And while the work is still pre­clin­i­cal, Park­er’s in­vest­ment is in­tend­ed to push the team to­ward the clin­ic.

If it pans out, says Blue­stone, they’ll have a best-in-class ther­a­py able to go af­ter a va­ri­ety of sol­id tu­mors.

Park­er has done a num­ber of re­search al­liances with bio­phar­mas like Tes­sa, but steered on­ly a few eq­ui­ty in­vest­ments like this. They’ve backed the on­col­o­gy imag­ing out­fit Imag­inAb and Tmu­ni­ty, the start­up from Penn’s Carl June and Oz Azam, and now Xyphos. There are al­so a few in­vest­ments they’ve made which they’re still play­ing close to the vest.

They’re in for the long haul, with some near-term des­ti­na­tions in mind.

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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Federal Trade Commission commissioner Rohit Chopra testifies on Capitol Hill (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

FTC clears Bris­tol-My­ers’ $74B deal to buy Cel­gene — but Dems sig­nal a po­ten­tial hard shift against Big Phar­ma M&A

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s record $74 billion takeover of Celgene is a done deal. And it will all be over — except for the lingering complaints from die-hard Celgene investors — on Wednesday.

Like much else that’s going on in Washington these days, the vote among the 5 FTC commissioners split along party lines, with the 3 Republicans voting to clear the way and the 2 Democrats steamed over what they see as a major M&A move that will lessen competition and innovation. And that split has big implications for the M&A side of the business if the Dems take the White House in 2020.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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BeiGene CEO John Oyler at an Endpoints event in Shanghai, October 2018 (Credit: Endpoints News/PharmCube)

UP­DAT­ED: In a first, FDA green-lights use of a Chi­nese built can­cer ther­a­py — and more are com­ing

Weeks after Amgen took a $2.7 billion stake in BeiGene, the Beijing-based biotech has secured its first-ever FDA approval for zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, months ahead of schedule.

BeiGene’s drug, branded as Brukinsa, has secured accelerated approval for adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) — a typically aggressive, rare, form of blood cancer — who have received at least one prior therapy.

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What does $62B buy you these days? A lot, says Take­da ex­ecs as the phar­ma play­er promis­es a block­buster R&D fu­ture

First comes the $62 billion buyout. Then comes the asset auction and reorganization to pay down debt. Now comes the detailed pledge of a bigger, brighter future in drug development.

That’s where Takeda finds itself on R&D day today, about 11 months after closing on their Shire acquisition. R&D chief Andy Plump is joining CEO Christophe Weber and other top members of the team to outline a new set of priorities in the greatly expanded pipeline at Takeda, which has jumped into the top ranks of the world’s pharma giants in the wake of the Shire deal.

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GSK's asth­ma bi­o­log­ic Nu­cala scores in rare blood dis­or­der study

GlaxoSmithKline’s asthma drug Nucala, which received a resounding FDA rejection for use in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) last year, has shown promise in a rare blood disorder.

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Mer­ck buys a fledg­ling neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech spawned by an old GSK dis­cov­ery al­liance. What’s up with that?

Avalon Ventures chief Jay Lichter has a well-known yen for drug development programs picked up in academia. And what he found in Haoxing Xu’s lab at the University of Michigan pricked his interest enough to launch one of his umbrella biotechs in San Diego.

Xu’s work laid the foundation for Avalon to launch Calporta, which has been working on finding small molecule agonists of TRPML1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, mucolipin subfamily, member 1) for lysosomal storage disorders. And that pathway, they believe, points to new approaches on major market neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

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