Patrick Soon-Sh­iong steps down as CEO of Nan­tK­west, a linch­pin of his 'Cancer Moon­shot'

Patrick Soon-Sh­iong

Five years af­ter he took pub­lic what was then the most valu­able IPO in biotech his­to­ry, bil­lion­aire sur­geon Patrick Soon-Sh­iong is step­ping down as CEO of Nan­tK­west.

Soon-Sh­iong’s sud­den de­par­ture comes as Nan­tK­west adds a clin­i­cal-stage Covid-19 vac­cine ef­fort to the nat­ur­al killer im­munother­a­pies they’ve been de­vel­op­ing for years. He re­mains the ma­jor­i­ty share­hold­er and he’ll stay on as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, but he leaves be­hind a com­pli­cat­ed lega­cy and few tan­gi­ble re­sults from a com­pa­ny that briefly cap­tured the at­ten­tion of many in and out­side of biotech. Richard Ad­cock, for­mer CEO of Ver­i­ty Health Sys­tems and a long­time health­care — al­beit not biotech — ex­ec­u­tive, will take over the helm.

Richard Ad­cock

Nan­tK­west had been found­ed as one of the linch­pins of the brash en­tre­pre­neur’s plan to re­make can­cer treat­ment, one that en­com­passed his so-called “Can­cer Moon­shot” and an im­munother­a­py ap­proach he la­beled “quan­tum on­co-ther­a­peu­tics.” Nan­tK­west specif­i­cal­ly de­vel­oped an off-the-shelf line of nat­ur­al killer cells that he want­ed to put in­to cock­tail ther­a­pies to boost pa­tients’ im­mune re­sponse in can­cers. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Big Phar­ma and the Na­tion­al Can­cer In­sti­tute, he planned to even­tu­al­ly en­roll 20,000 pa­tients in nu­mer­ous tri­als.

Re­sults were slow to ma­te­ri­al­ize, though, and in­ves­ti­ga­tions from STAT cast doubt on the progress of the ini­tia­tive and raised con­cerns about po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est in how it was be­ing car­ried out. Al­though it start­ed trad­ing at $25 per share and a mar­ket cap of $2.6 bil­lion, by De­cem­ber 2018 shares could be had for $1.01. Soon-Sh­iong main­tains his ef­forts were stunt­ed af­ter Big Phar­ma part­ners aban­doned him.

Shares surged again at the be­gin­ning of this year af­ter Soon-Sh­iong an­nounced at the JP Mor­gan Health­care con­fer­ence that one pa­tient with pan­cre­at­ic can­cer had seen a com­plete re­sponse. It was a no­table achieve­ment for a no­to­ri­ous­ly hard-to-treat can­cer, but it stoked crit­ics, who said it fell short of the ran­dom­ized con­trol da­ta and that an in­vest­ment con­fer­ence was no place to re­lease sci­en­tif­ic re­sults. The stock has al­so been boost­ed this year by re­ports that Alex Tre­bek and Har­ry Reid each re­ceived a Soon-Sh­iong-de­vel­oped im­munother­a­py and re­spond­ed well, and by news of their Covid-19 vac­cine ef­fort.

Al­though no longer CEO of Nan­tK­west, the now 68-year-old doc­tor will still have his hands full. He is al­so a part-own­er of the Lak­ers and own­er and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the LA Times, which is cur­rent­ly em­broiled in an in­tra-com­pa­ny fight over who should be the top ed­i­tor at the pa­per. And he is still CEO of sev­er­al of the string of biotechs he’s found­ed over the last decade and a half.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; and more

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Alzheimer’s drug bites the dust; Re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture; Land­mark di­a­betes OK; 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.

Being in the news business can give one a warped sense of time — it feels like quite a while since we published some of these stories below. But next Saturday’s Endpoints Weekly will definitely be shorter, as we take off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. We will still have the abbreviated edition in your inbox at the usual time.

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Peter Hecht, Cyclerion CEO

Cy­cle­ri­on board quick­ly nix­es CEO Pe­ter Hecht's un­ortho­dox pitch for low cash re­serves

It’s been less than two months since Cyclerion laid out a new R&D strategy around its lead drug in mitochondrial diseases, one that triggered the company to lay off close to half of its employees and explore licensing deals for the rest of the pipeline. But CEO Peter Hecht apparently has other plans in mind.

Hecht, who led Ironwood for close to 20 years before spinning out Cyclerion, disclosed in an SEC filing Monday that a “newly-formed private company” that he “may have or may acquire an interest” submitted a proposal to Cyclerion the day prior to purchase Cyclerion’s CNS assets, including CY6463 and CY3018 — the top two programs listed in the pipeline.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.

Richard Francis, new Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

Up­dat­ed: Te­va picks for­mer San­doz head as new CEO to re­place Kåre Schultz

Teva has tapped the former CEO of Sandoz, Richard Francis, to lead the Israeli generics giant, replacing current CEO Kåre Schultz.

Francis led Sandoz, the generics division of Novartis, for five years from 2014 to 2019, leaving as Novartis began making plans to spin out the unit. It’s been a challenging several years for generics companies, which have seen supply chains disrupted, pressure on how much they can charge for drugs, and stock prices in decline.