Saar Gill at ASCO 2017 via ASH on YouTube

Ris­ing Penn star Saar Gill gets fund­ing for a next-gen CAR-T start­up, adding a new weapon to the mix

Ear­li­er this month, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Saar Gill turned up at AS­CO to present new da­ta demon­strat­ing that a com­bi­na­tion of Im­bru­vi­ca with No­var­tis’ next-gen CAR-T CTL119 proved very ef­fec­tive in treat­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly lethal cas­es of chron­ic lym­pho­cyt­ic leukemia, wip­ing out all signs of the dis­ease in 8 of 9 treat­ment-re­sis­tant pa­tients en­rolled in an ex­plorato­ry study.

But Gill’s been par­tic­u­lar­ly busy on the CAR-T front, and not just in new re­search work. He’s al­so been en­list­ing some mar­quee in­vestors on a new start­up project that will aim at mak­ing a ma­jor new ad­vance in the field.

Close­ly in­volved with CAR-T head­lin­er Carl June in Penn’s pi­o­neer­ing work with No­var­tis, which is now rac­ing to­ward a like­ly first ap­proval, Gill’s start­up is promis­ing to com­bine the proven ef­fi­ca­cy of reengi­neered T cells with macrophages, an­oth­er weapon in the fight against can­cer that could add to the fire pow­er of the first CAR-Ts with a spe­cial fo­cus on a chal­leng­ing fron­tier: sol­id tu­mors.

“We hy­poth­e­sized ear­ly on that fo­cus­ing on dif­fer­ent ef­fec­tor cells, oth­er than T cells, might be more ef­fec­tive in try­ing to tack­le sol­id tu­mors, which has been a chal­lenge for T cell ther­a­pies. The in­nate bi­ol­o­gy drove us to try macrophages,” Gill says.

CAR-T’s first and best ap­pli­ca­tion has been cen­tered on liq­uid tu­mors, with some ma­jor ob­sta­cles to over­come in ex­pand­ing in­to sol­id tu­mors. Now Gill has some un­spec­i­fied sup­port in a new round led by Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures and Health­Cap with par­tic­i­pa­tion by Grazia Eq­ui­ty and IP Group.

Gill’s com­pa­ny is called CAR­MA — a play­ful ab­bre­vi­a­tion of the chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tors added to T cells in CAR-T along with macrophages — and it’s iden­ti­fied a lead drug called CAR­MA-0508.

“Macrophages can en­gulf and kill cells through the process of phago­cy­to­sis. By ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neer­ing these cells with CARs, we can specif­i­cal­ly di­rect them to tu­mor cells, such as ovar­i­an can­cer cells,” says co-founder Michael Klichin­sky, a PhD can­di­date in the de­part­ment of sys­tems phar­ma­col­o­gy and trans­la­tion­al ther­a­peu­tics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, in a pre­pared state­ment. “Our pre-clin­i­cal da­ta sup­port our hy­poth­e­sis and show tar­get­ed, se­lec­tive and ef­fec­tive killing of sol­id tu­mor cells by CAR­MA. In ad­di­tion, we ex­pect that CAR macrophages will prime a T cell im­mune re­sponse against the tu­mor.”

CAR­MA isn’t the on­ly new com­pa­ny to get start­ed out of Penn look­ing to play a big role in CAR-T’s sec­ond act. June al­so launched Tmu­ni­ty Ther­a­peu­tics, an­oth­er cell ther­a­py com­pa­ny, re­cruit­ing No­var­tis’ Us­man ‘Oz’ Azam to take the lead role at the com­pa­ny late last year.

Im­age: Saar Gill at AS­CO 2017 via ASH on YouTube

How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.