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.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

Overnight for­tunes are be­ing made in biotech these days — and it's both en­cour­ag­ing and more than a lit­tle bit scary

Just to complete the last leg of a running story I’ve been tracking for a few weeks, Olema $OLMA has come through its IPO from the Thursday night pricing at $19 a share with a market cap just north of $2 billion.

That leaves newly-named CEO Sean Bohen holding a batch of 1,110,896 shares with a strike price of $4.82. As of Tuesday morning, the stock is now trading at $53.40, giving him a portfolio value of $53.4 million. Not bad for someone who was hired in September.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs covers a wide range of indications that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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