Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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A small, ob­scure biotech just won big with their IPO. In this mar­ket. Are you kid­ding me?

How could a small, largely unknown biotech that emerged from stealth mode just months ago with early-stage cancer programs jump onto Wall Street in the middle of a Force 5 financial hurricane and sail through with a $165 million IPO?

And what does that mean for the rest of the industry waiting to see just how much damage global lockdowns will wreak on clinical development?

The biotech is a company called Zentalis. The crew there nabbed an $85 million crossover round late last year — notably waiting 5 years before waving the numbers around to attract attention, according to my read of a FierceBiotech story. Perceptive joined in, but the syndicate was not in general the kind of marquee affair that gets tongues wagging.

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Bob Nelsen at the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH chief Bob Nelsen has $1.5B to prove 2 sim­ple points: ‘We’re in the most in­no­v­a­tive time ever’ and in­vestors are stay­ing

ARCH co-founder and managing director Bob Nelsen has a well known yen for the home run swing, betting big on potentially transformative meds and tech and the biotech teams he helps bring together. He thrives and bleeds on the cutting edge. And now Nelsen and the ARCH group have debuted 2 big funds to prove that this is the time for the best of biotech to shine — deadly pandemic be damned.

Two new funds, ARCH Venture Fund X and ARCH Venture Fund X Overage, gathered a combined $1.46 billion. And that’s a record. ARCH Venture Fund IX and ARCH Venture Fund IX Overage closed in 2016 with a combined $1.1 billion. ARCH Venture Fund VIII and ARCH Venture Fund VIII Overage closed in 2014 with a combined $560 million.

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Aaron Royston, venBio

In­vest­ing in the time of coro­n­avirus: the good, the bad and the hope­ful, as biotech VC firms close funds worth $3B

Apart from disrupting biopharma R&D and regulatory timelines, the coronavirus pandemic has inevitably ravaged financial markets and eroded investor risk appetite. Investing in the time of coronavirus feels reckless, but if biotech venture funds are any indication, the time is ripe.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel be­comes a bil­lion­aire; No­var­tis, In­cyte pitch Jakafi PhI­II to tack­le se­vere cas­es

You can now add Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel to the list of biotech billionaires.

Since investors began to understand the full scope of the coronavirus outbreak in late February, cash has flushed out of much of the stock market and into the handful of companies leading the fight for drugs and vaccines. That’s meant hundreds of millions for Moderna, the Flagship-backed company that emerged early as the world’s first best hope for a Covid-19 vaccine.

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J&J gives pi­o­neer­ing stem cell biotech its first Big Phar­ma deal, part­ner­ing on iP­SC CAR-T and CAR-NK

Late last summer, one of the earliest stem cell therapy companies got two government decisions in the span of three weeks: The USPTO granted them a patent for iPSC-derived CAR-T cells, and then the FDA cleared them for their first-in-human CAR-NK trial.

Yesterday, the two technologies landed them an up-to $3.1 billion deal.

Fate Therapeutics and J&J announced a global collaboration that will pay Fate $100 million upfront and a trove of potential milestones to develop multiple CAR-T and CAR-NK therapies. It’s the first Big Pharma partnership Fate has announced in their 13-year existence and the largest, although at least one longtime follower thought they could have landed more.

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FDA re­ports short­age of se­da­tion drug used for putting Covid-19 pa­tients on ven­ti­la­tors

The FDA on Thursday updated its list of drugs in shortage to include the sedation drug midazolam, which along with other sedatives is being used to treat COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation.

The updated listings for five manufacturers note an increased demand for midazolam and may just be the beginning of what’s to come for other sedation drugs too.

Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society for Health-System Pharmacists, told Focus via email: “We have multiple reports of increases in purchases and utilization of sedatives like midazolam, fentanyl, and propofol to treat COVID-19 patients who require mechanical ventilation.”

Drug dis­cov­ery in the age of coro­n­avirus

Developing new drugs is incredibly hard. That’s why, despite superhuman efforts from the industry, we’re still looking at 12-18 months minimum before we can realistically hope for a vaccine for Covid-19, and probably months before there’s a proven viable drug treatment.

But our increasing ability to begin to industrialize the drug discovery and development process through an engineering approach means that we have more hope for speeding up this process than ever before — and not just to defeat coronavirus, but to benefit the development of all new medicines in the future.

UP­DAT­ED: Have a new drug that promis­es to fight Covid-19? The FDA promis­es fast ac­tion but some de­vel­op­ers aren't hap­py

After providing an emergency approval to use malaria drugs against coronavirus with little actual evidence of their efficacy or safety in that setting, the FDA has already proven that it has set aside the gold standard when it comes to the pandemic. And now regulators have spelled out a new approach to speeding development that promises immediate responses in no uncertain terms — promising a program offering the ultimate high-speed pathway to Covid-19 drug approvals.

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Once fu­ri­ous over No­var­tis’ da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, the FDA now says it’s noth­ing they need to take ac­tion on

Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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