Per­lara col­lab­o­rates with Har­vard/Un­di­ag­nosed Dis­eases Net­work; Verona shares soar on pos­i­tive CF da­ta

→ Per­lara, the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny found­ed by Twit­ter’s fa­vorite biotech rebel Ethan Perl­stein, an­nounced two sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery col­lab­o­ra­tions Fri­day with Har­vard Med­ical School and the Un­di­ag­nosed Dis­eases Net­work. The re­search part­ner­ships are for two rare mono­genic neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders. One is caused by a mu­ta­tion in GNA01 and the oth­er caused by a mu­ta­tion in RPS6KA3 (Cof­fin-Lowry Syn­drome). Per­lara plans to de­vel­op and val­i­date ne­ma­tode and fly “pa­tient avatars” of path­o­gen­ic GNA01 and RPS6KA3 mu­ta­tions for use in high-through­put phe­no­typ­ic drug screens. Perl­stein, CEO of the Per­lara, is best known in the bio­phar­ma world through his out­spo­ken Twit­ter pres­ence, where he’s laid bare the dif­fi­cul­ty of rais­ing cap­i­tal as a young com­pa­ny work­ing on “dis­eases thought too rare to at­tract the in­ter­est of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.” He’s been called rad­i­cal for his trans­paren­cy, and a rebel for chal­leng­ing fundrais­ing norms on a pub­lic stage. In lieu of sig­nif­i­cant ven­ture cap­i­tal funds, Perl­stein has in­stead re­lied heav­i­ly on part­ner­ships with pa­tient groups since the com­pa­ny’s 2014 in­cep­tion. Last year, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny did raise a $7.4M Se­ries A.

→  Shares of Verona Phar­ma shot up 25% $VR­NA on Fri­day af­ter the Lon­don-based biotech tout­ed Phase IIa da­ta for its cys­tic fi­bro­sis ther­a­py RPL554. Pa­tients in the small study achieved a 6% sus­tained im­prove­ment in FEV1, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers, af­ter a sin­gle dose. The com­pa­ny de­scribes the drug as a “dual in­hibitor of the en­zymes phos­pho­di­esterase 3 and 4 that acts as both a bron­chodila­tor and an an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry agent in a sin­gle com­pound.”

→ The FDA has ac­cept­ed for re­view Re­gen­eron $REGN and its part­ner Sanofi’s $SNY mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion for Dupix­ent (dupilum­ab). The duo is ask­ing for the OK to sell the drug as an add-on main­te­nance treat­ment in cer­tain adults and ado­les­cents at least 12 years old with mod­er­ate-to-se­vere asth­ma. The ap­pli­ca­tion is backed by clin­i­cal da­ta from 2,888 adults and ado­les­cents from three piv­otal tri­als, the com­pa­nies said in a state­ment. The ac­tion date is set for Oc­to­ber 20. Dupix­ent, a ful­ly hu­man mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body, is al­ready ap­proved in the US for atopic der­mati­tis.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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Kenneth Galbraith, incoming Zymeworks CEO

Zymeworks re­places half its C-suite, aims to lay off 25% of to­tal work­force as new CEO takes over

New Zymeworks CEO Kenneth Galbraith is aiming to hit the ground running when his tenure officially begins next month, but he’ll be doing so with a much different looking team.

In a lengthy press release outlining the biotech’s 2022 goals, Galbraith said Zymeworks will be laying off at least 25% of its staff over the course of the year. Half of its C-suite will also be replaced immediately as Galbraith looks to remake the company in his image after Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks’ founder and CEO since 2003, stepped down two weeks ago.

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Crit­ics push back on Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion ad blitz to get Medicare to change its Aduhelm rul­ing: 'Dead wrong'

The latest Alzheimer’s Association advertising campaign encourages people to fight.

Not against the disease or for more research or treatments, but against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More specifically, CMS’ recent reimbursement decision to only pay for Biogen and Eisai’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm for patients in clinical trials.

With CMS’ preliminary decision now in a 30-day comment period, patient advocates’ goal is to convince CMS to reverse its decision with a marketing blitz and public pressure.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Fail­ing to con­firm clin­i­cal ben­e­fit, Gilead pulls 2 ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval in­di­ca­tions for can­cer drug

Gilead recently decided to pull two indications for its cancer drug Zydelig — in relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and relapsed small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL) — after failing to complete the confirmatory trials required as part of the accelerated approvals from 2014.

“As the treatment landscape for FL and SLL has evolved, enrollment into the confirmatory study has been an ongoing challenge,” Gilead said in a statement, noting it formally notified the FDA of its decision to voluntarily withdraw these indications.

Yingli Phar­ma brings small mol­e­cule re­search to the US in new pact with MD An­der­son; UCB's pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis drug shows pos­i­tive PhI­II re­sults

Shanghai biotech Yingli Pharma wants to bring its small molecule drug research global — and a new pact with MD Anderson will help it get there.

Yingli and MD Anderson have inked a 5-year collaboration deal that will put its cancer candidates — some of which have already generated data in China — into trials in the US. The lead program is linperlisib, a PI3Kδ inhibitor that’s in a Phase III trial in follicular lymphoma, according to Yingli’s website. In the US, MD Anderson will work with Yingli to put the candidate in a Phase II trial for peripheral T cell lymphoma (PTCL), an uncommon and aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Richard Pazdur (via AACR)

Time lim­its on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals? FDA's on­col­o­gy chief Rick Paz­dur eyes po­ten­tial re­forms via in­ter­na­tion­al ap­proach­es

The spotlight on the accelerated approval pathway continues to shine bright, with the FDA’s top oncology official writing in an opinion that the pathway may be strengthened with bits and pieces of what other regulators in Europe and elsewhere have done with their expedited approval pathways, such as adding expiration dates for these faster approvals to ensure they confirm clinical benefit in a timely manner.

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Covid-19 roundup: HHS may strug­gle to ab­sorb Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed; Eu­rope has no plans for a fourth vac­cine dose

Operation Warp Speed, perhaps the greatest achievement of the former Trump administration, promptly delivered Covid-19 vaccine supplies nationwide when they became available, thanks to collaborations between HHS and the Department of Defense, while helping to fund and aid the manufacture of billions of doses.

But since the Biden administration took over a year ago, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock transitioned out of her role as the therapeutics lead in Warp Speed, which has been converted into a new operation without the fancy name (now known as the “HHS-DOD COVID-19 Countermeasures Acceleration Group”), and as of the start of 2022, the Department of Defense is no longer helping HHS on the program.