Reimag­in­ing med­i­cine? No­var­tis wraps phar­ma’s first big glob­al pot deal

In a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for med­ical cannabis ad­vo­cates in the Unit­ed States, Swiss gi­ant No­var­tis’ $NVS San­doz AG unit has tied up with Cana­di­an med­ical cannabis pro­duc­er Tilray, mark­ing the first big en­dorse­ment of the con­tro­ver­sial plant by a large, multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny.

The deal ex­em­pli­fies chang­ing at­ti­tudes in the US, where more Amer­i­cans live in states that have le­gal­ized the sale of med­ical and/or recre­ation­al cannabis than in an­ti-cannabis ju­ris­dic­tions. Tilray, which sup­plies cannabis flower and ex­tract prod­ucts to pa­tients, physi­cians, health­care fa­cil­i­ties and re­searchers in 12 coun­tries, has an ex­ist­ing al­liance with San­doz Cana­da.

Un­der the so-called frame­work agree­ment, San­doz AG may sup­port Tilray in com­mer­cial­iz­ing and brand­ing the Nanaimo, British Co­lum­bia-based com­pa­ny’s non-smok­able/non-com­bustible prod­ucts; the Cana­di­an pot pro­duc­er may sup­ply and/or li­cense such prod­ucts to and from San­doz AG; and sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the two may col­lab­o­rate in de­vel­op­ing such prod­ucts.

“The (ex­pand­ed) part­ner­ship al­so helps le­git­imize cannabis in in­ter­na­tion­al mar­kets, which could im­pact preva­lence with­in ex­ist­ing mar­kets as well as help in­flu­ence coun­tries con­sid­er­ing med­ical cannabis le­gal­iza­tion,” Cowen’s Vivien Az­er wrote in a note.

The land­mark FDA ap­proval of GW Phar­ma’s $GW­PH cannabis-de­rived med­i­cine Epid­i­olex ear­li­er this year paved the way for a pletho­ra of small and mid-sized drug de­vel­op­ers — in­clud­ing In­sys Ther­a­peu­tics $IN­SY, Zyner­ba $ZYNE, In­Med Phar­ma, Kan­nal­ife and Ax­im Biotech $AX­IM — that are hop­ing to hitch their wag­on to the cannabis star, ei­ther by de­vel­op­ing syn­thet­ic or nat­ur­al cannabis-de­rived ther­a­peu­tics or de­vis­ing nov­el de­liv­ery mech­a­nisms for its ab­sorp­tion.

Two big deals over the course of this year have al­so un­der­scored the lu­cra­tive po­ten­tial of the plant, with al­co­hol gi­ant Con­stel­la­tion Brands $STZ spend­ing a mam­moth $4 bil­lion to se­cure a 38% stake in Cana­di­an cannabis com­pa­ny Canopy Growth $CGC, and cig­a­rette mak­er Al­tria $MO fork­ing out $1.8 bil­lion to take a 45% stake in an­oth­er Cana­di­an pot com­pa­ny Cronos $CRON.

Marc Feld­mann

Mean­while, the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to con­sid­er cannabis as a sched­ule 1 sub­stance — on par with LSD and hero­in — with no med­ical val­ue, in­fu­ri­at­ing re­searchers who con­tend the clas­si­fi­ca­tion has dra­mat­i­cal­ly slowed the sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the plant. Nev­er­the­less with House De­moc­rats tak­ing back seats this No­vem­ber, pro-mar­i­jua­na leg­is­la­tion is ex­pect­ed to heat up.

“There is am­ple ev­i­dence that the cannabis plant has nu­mer­ous use­ful ap­pli­ca­tions in med­i­cine and the law is ob­so­lete,” said Marc Feld­mann, an Ox­ford pro­fes­sor and im­mu­nol­o­gist whose work  led to the dis­cov­ery and sub­se­quent com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the world’s largest sell­ing drug class, an­ti-TNF. “This clas­si­fi­ca­tion is chang­ing around the world – it has al­ready hap­pened in Cana­da and will hap­pen in more states in the US in due course,” he said in a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view with End­points News. Feld­mann al­so serves as CEO of CannBioRex, a Cana­da-based com­pa­ny that is de­vel­op­ing syn­thet­ic cannabis-de­rived med­i­cines.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO CEO (BIO via YouTube)

BIO looks to re­struc­ture, lay­ing off staff amid chal­lenge to the trade org's nor­mal face-to-face style

The biopharma industry, on the whole, had a red-letter year in 2020 amid Covid-19, with fundraising at an all-time high and major players speeding vaccines ahead to approval. But for BIO, the industry’s leading trade organization, the pandemic has prompted a reconsideration of the game plan.

BIO will pivot to digital as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, making “some staff reductions” as it looks to bring its roughly 37,000 in-person meetings each year to the web, the organization said Thursday.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.