Brian Wong. RAPT

RAPT signs on with strug­gling Han­mi for Asian en­trance of can­cer ther­a­py aimed at 'charged tu­mors'

In the ear­ly 60s, two British vi­rol­o­gists an­a­lyz­ing tu­mor cells from Ugan­da made a land­mark sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery that would lead to a land­mark sci­en­tif­ic er­ror.

They dis­cov­ered the first can­cer-caus­ing virus, lat­er epony­mous­ly named Ep­stein-Barr, and Amer­i­ca — fresh off the po­lio vac­cine’s un­prece­dent­ed suc­cess — was ready to be­lieve that most can­cers were caused by virus­es and thus could be cured by vac­cines. The prob­lem was sim­ple: Most can­cers weren’t, and the ones caused by Ep­stein-Barr most­ly af­flict­ed peo­ple oceans away from Wash­ing­ton DC, where the Na­tion­al Can­cer In­sti­tute be­gan spend­ing mil­lions on the sub­field.

So as RAPT Ther­a­peu­tics watched the ear­ly Phase I re­sults roll in last year on a treat­ment aimed large­ly at virus-fu­eled tu­mors, they be­gan plan­ning to cross the Pa­cif­ic. To­day they an­nounced a col­lab­o­ra­tion with South Ko­rea’s Han­mi Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals worth $10 mil­lion up­front and up to $108 mil­lion in po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment and sales mile­stones.

“It pro­vides ad­di­tion­al shots on goal and more proof-of-con­cept da­ta,” RAPT CEO Bri­an Wong told End­points News. “The sec­ond thing it does is pro­vide a piv­ot to Asia.”

The deal came af­ter sev­er­al months of ne­go­ti­a­tions with a va­ri­ety of Asian play­ers in mul­ti­ple coun­tries, Wong said. It will give Han­mi an ex­clu­sive li­cense to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize RAPT’s lead prod­uct, FLX475, for can­cer in South Ko­rea, Chi­na, Hong Kong and Tai­wan. Han­mi will aug­ment an ex­ist­ing Phase I/II and be­gin their own Phase II in par­al­lel with a forth­com­ing US Phase II.

Formed from spare parts left­over af­ter Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb bought Flexus in 2015, RAPT – known as FLX Bio un­til this past May – tar­gets what they call “charged tu­mors.” These are tu­mors that have all the com­po­nents to be hit by the body’s im­mune re­sponse but sur­vive by har­ness­ing reg­u­la­to­ry T cells.

These T cells are meant to sup­press the im­mune sys­tem and stop the body from at­tack­ing healthy cells, but a tu­mor can al­so some­times use them to sur­vive. FLX475 blocks a path­way on those cells called CCR4, and RAPT thinks that will pre­vent them from en­ter­ing the tu­mor and turn­ing down the im­mune re­sponse.

And these charged tu­mors hap­pen to in­clude many virus-as­so­ci­at­ed can­cers and oth­ers, such as gas­tric can­cer, that are more preva­lent in Asia.

“We are run­ning our own glob­al tri­als but we re­al­ly we couldn’t ac­cess all of the charged tu­mors,” Wong said. “This is what the col­lab­o­ra­tion al­lows us to do.”

For RAPT, the part­ner­ship comes af­ter its hopes of a $70-mil­lion-plus IPO got cold-shoul­dered by an oth­er­wise pop­ping sum­mer biotech mar­ket. Ul­ti­mate­ly, they set­tled for rais­ing $36 mil­lion on 3 mil­lion shares.

For Han­mi, the small biotech deal comes af­ter it’s been spurned by its old deep-pock­et­ed part­ners. J&J and Eli Lil­ly dumped two deals with the com­pa­ny this year worth a com­bined $1.5 bil­lion, and of course, in 2016 Boehringer In­gel­heim abrupt­ly walked out of a $730 mil­lion part­ner­ship af­ter Han­mi failed to re­port pa­tient deaths in a tri­al.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Patrik Jonsson, the president of Lilly Bio-Medicines

Who knew? Der­mi­ra’s board kept watch as its stock price tracked Eli Lil­ly’s se­cret bid­ding on a $1.1B buy­out

In just 8 days, from December 6 to December 14, the stock jumped from $7.88 to $12.70 — just under the initial $13 bid. There was no hard news about the company that would explain a rise like that tracking closely to the bid offer, raising the obvious question of whether insider info has leaked out to traders.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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Civi­ca and Blue Cross Blue Shield launch new ven­ture to low­er gener­ic prices

Five years after Martin Shkreli put a smug face to the volatile prices companies can charge even for generic drugs, payers and governments are coming up with outside-the-box solutions.

The latest fix is a new venture from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 18 of its members and Civica, the generics company founded in 2018 by hospitals fed up with high prices for drugs that had long-since lost patent protection. While Civica focused on drugs that hospitals purchased, the new company will aim to lower prices on drugs that, like Shkreli’s Daraprim, are purchased by individuals.

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Merck Invests in State-Of-The-Art Biotech Development Facility in Switzerland

Mer­ck KGaA match­es lofty R&D goals with €250M in­vest­ment in­to a new clin­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Switzer­land

As Merck KGaA strives to prove itself as a capable biopharma R&D player, it has begun construction on a €250 million facility dedicated to developing and manufacturing drugs for use in clinical trials.

The German drugmaker chose a location at Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, where it already has a commercial manufacturing site, in order to “bridge together research and manufacturing.”

“This investment in the Merck Biotech Development Center reflects our commitment to speed up the availability of new medicines for patients in need, and confirms the importance of Switzerland as our prime hub for the manufacturing of biotech medicines,” CEO Stefan Oschmann said at the groundbreaking ceremony, according to a statement.

Breast can­cer ap­proval in tow, As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi armed an­ti­body scores in key gas­tric can­cer study

AstraZeneca kicked off Monday with a flurry of good news. Apart from unveiling positive results on its stroke trial testing its clot-fighter Brilinta, and welcoming its experimental IL-23 inhibitor brazikumab back from Allergan — the British drugmaker also disclosed some upbeat gastric cancer data on its HER2-positive oncology therapy it is collaborating on with Daiichi Sankyo.

Buoyed by the performance of its oncology drugs, last March AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot bet big to partner with Daiichi on the cancer drug, with $1.35 billion upfront in a deal worth up to roughly $7 billion. Roughly 8 months later, as 2019 drew to a close, the FDA swiftly approved the drug — trastuzumab deruxtecan — for use in breast cancer, months ahead of the expected decision date.

Sor­ren­to shrugs off an anony­mous pri­vate eq­ui­ty group’s $1B of­fer to buy the com­pa­ny

San Diego-based Sorrento Therapeutics isn’t going the M&A route — at least not today.

The biotech caused quite a stir when it put out word a few weeks ago that an unidentified private equity group was bidding a billion dollars-plus for the company. The news drove a quick spike in the company’s share price as investors hooked up for the ride — that didn’t happen.

The update sparked a 5% drop in the share price $SRNE ahead of the bell. It’s now trading just above $4, without any evidence that the $7 price looked like it was firm.

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie do­nates $1M+ of the HIV drug that Chi­na is now rec­om­mend­ing for coro­n­avirus treat­ment

AbbVie is donating more than $1 million worth of an HIV drug to help combat the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak in China, the company announced on Friday.

China’s National Health Commission has suggested Aluvia, a pill containing lopinavir and ritonavir, as one of two possible treatments for the symptoms of the virus currently known as 2019-nCoV in the absence of effective antiviral medications. The other part is nebulized alpha-interferon.

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie and Al­ler­gan di­vesti­tures are in, and an old As­traZeneca drug comes home

When AbbVie announced their $63-billion Allergan acquisition last year, executives acknowledged the two companies would have to divest some drugs to satisfy regulators. The two main assets in discussion have now been sold off – and one of them is coming home.

AstraZeneca will acquire brazikumab, Allergan’s late-stage IL-23 candidate for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The drug was originally developed by AstraZeneca’s defunct subsidiary MedImmune, in collaboration with Amgen. Allergan licensed it for $250 million upfront and $1.27 billion in milestones.

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