Re­jig­ging Mer­ck KGaA part­ner­ship, Eliot Forster gains full con­trol of the al­pha in F-star's con­stel­la­tion

Eliot Forster walked in­to this year’s JP Mor­gan con­fer­ence — his first since as­sum­ing the CEO seat at F-star — with a clear goal in mind: Talk to Mer­ck KGaA about get­ting its lead bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body back.

Four months lat­er, the sea­soned biotech en­tre­pre­neur is pleased to find FS118 ful­ly un­der his team’s con­trol as he piv­ots F-star away from a part­ner­ship mod­el in­to a more ma­ture, in­de­pen­dent play­er mak­ing its own calls in the clin­ic.


Im­age: Eliot Forster. JOHN CAR­ROLL for END­POINTS NEWS

In ad­di­tion to un­lock­ing more po­ten­tial val­ue in the long term, the arrange­ment al­lows F-star to pur­sue a bio­mark­er-dri­ven de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy — with the speed and agili­ty of a small biotech but the dis­cern­ment and cash re­serve of a 13-year-old out­fit. Hav­ing re­cent­ly ex­pand­ed to the US, F-star now boasts of over 100 staffers spread be­tween both Cam­bridges in the US and UK.

The strate­gic shift will mean chart­ing new av­enues for fund­ing as part­ner­ship mon­ey stops com­ing in. Forster, known among Eu­ro­pean cir­cles for a record-set­ting $320 mil­lion round at Im­muno­core, pre­vi­ous­ly told End­points News that a siz­able crossover round and IPO are all in the pic­ture.

What re­mains un­changed is the com­pa­ny’s pitch: a plat­form tech that can add an anti­gen bind­ing site in the Fc re­gion of an an­ti­body, churn­ing up bis­pecifics that re­main straight­for­ward (and thus cheap) to man­u­fac­ture.

In the case of FS118, the tech con­jures a next-gen drug that tar­gets both PD-​L1 and LAG-​3, a T cell sur­face mol­e­cule thought to hin­der pro­lif­er­a­tion of the im­mune cells. By in­cor­po­rat­ing a check­point with an­oth­er an­ti­body in one ther­a­py, Forster sees a win­ning en­try for the mar­ket­place that can re­place a com­bi­na­tion of two pricey drugs.

“The ju­ry’s ful­ly out” on the mer­its of PD-L1 ver­sus PD-1 as a tar­get, Forster tells me. And be­ing able to find PD-L1, which is over­ex­pressed on tu­mor cells, might make it eas­i­er for the T cells to see and un­leash an at­tack on them.

The com­pa­ny has start­ed an ear­ly-stage study of FS118, which is ex­pect­ed to gen­er­ate its first da­ta cut late this year.

F-star re­mains tied up with Mer­ck KGaA on four oth­er pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, two of which the Ger­man phar­ma is li­cens­ing. Mean­while, the li­cense agree­ments with Ab­b­Vie and De­nali — both li­cens­ing agree­ments with no op­tions to ac­quire de­vel­op­ment rights back — will stand as F-star’s on­ly sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery part­ner­ships for some time to come.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

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Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Re­searchers move clos­er to de­ci­pher­ing blood clots from As­traZeneca, J&J's Covid-19 vac­cines

Researchers may be nearing an answer for the mysterious and life-threatening blood clots that appeared on very rare occasions in people who received the J&J or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The new work builds on an early hypothesis researchers in Norway put forward last spring, when the cases first cropped up. They proposed the events were similar to blood clots that can occur in a small subset of patients who receive heparin, one of the most commonly used blood thinners.

Ed Kaye, Stoke Therapeutics CEO

Stoke touts ear­ly signs of ef­fi­ca­cy for Dravet syn­drome drug

Two and a half years after driving his antisense oligonucleotide platform to Wall Street, Stoke Therapeutics CEO Ed Kaye is painting a fuller picture of the company’s first clinical data. And though the trial wasn’t powered to detect statistical significance, Kaye says the readout shows early signs of efficacy in kids with a rare, drug-resistant form of epilepsy

STK-001 was well-tolerated in single and multiple doses in 22 Dravet syndrome patients between the ages of 2 and 18 years old, Stoke announced on Friday. What’s more, 12 of the 17 evaluable patients at the time (70.6%) saw reductions from baseline in convulsive seizure frequency, according to the company.