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

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.

Marisol Peron, Genmab SVP of communications and corporate affairs

Gen­mab launch­es cor­po­rate cam­paign am­pli­fy­ing its ‘knock your socks off’ an­ti­bod­ies

Genmab often talks about its “knock-your-socks-off” antibodies — and now the term is getting its own logo and corporate campaign.

The teal and purple logo for the acronym KYSO — Genmab pronounces it “ky-so” — debuts on Wednesday and comes on the heels of Genmab’s newly announced 2030 vision. That aspiration aims to expand Genmab’s drug development beyond oncology to include other serious diseases, while also doubling down on its own drug development.

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