Ro­bot­ic pill tech found to be safe, tol­er­a­ble in ear­ly hu­man study, paving ground for oral bi­o­log­ics

Trans­form­ing in­jecta­bles in­to pills is hard­ly a nov­el idea, but a string of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal/chem­i­cal ef­forts to evade the en­zymes that break down the oral drug be­fore it can be ab­sorbed have large­ly hit a wall. Ear­li­er this month, an an­i­mal study cap­tured the spot­light for the po­ten­tial of its blue­ber­ry sized ro­bot­ic pill de­signed to de­liv­er an in­sulin shot in­side the stom­ach — but Cal­i­for­nia-based Rani Ther­a­peu­tics on Thurs­day said it has suc­cess­ful­ly test­ed its ro­bot­ic pill for safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty in hu­mans, paving the way for ef­fi­ca­cy stud­ies that could open the door to a colos­sal mar­ket to en­hance treat­ment com­pli­ance, di­min­ish the need for physi­cian-led ther­a­peu­tic ad­min­is­tra­tion and pla­cate nee­dle-pho­bic pa­tients.

Mir Im­ran

The com­pa­ny’s prod­uct — called the Ra­niP­ill — has un­der­gone over 100 pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies, in­clud­ing large an­i­mal tri­als. The cap­sule has an en­teric coat­ing that pro­tects it from the acidic am­bi­ence of the stom­ach, and once it moves in­to the in­tes­tine and pH lev­els rise, the coat­ing dis­solves and a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion takes place which in­flates a bal­loon. Pres­sure in the bal­loon push­es a dis­solv­able mi­cronee­dle filled with the drug in­to the in­testi­nal wall.

In­testines don’t have pain re­cep­tors, and the in­testi­nal sub­strate — which is de­signed to ab­sorb nu­tri­ents — is high­ly vas­cu­lar­ized, mak­ing it the ide­al lo­ca­tion for the drug-en­gorged in­jec­tion to de­ploy, Rani chief Mir Im­ran told End­points News, adding that in the hand­ful of drugs the com­pa­ny test­ed as part of the Ra­niP­ill in an­i­mal stud­ies, the ab­sorp­tion of the drug was gen­er­al­ly equal or high­er than that of a sub­cu­ta­neous in­jec­tion.

Fol­low­ing suc­cess­ful an­i­mal stud­ies, Rani ini­ti­at­ed a study in healthy hu­mans last year to eval­u­ate the fea­si­bil­i­ty of the prod­uct. Two groups of 10 sub­jects each (with one arm hav­ing fed, and the oth­er arm hav­ing fast­ed) were giv­en a drug-free ver­sion of the Ra­niP­ill. Re­sults re­vealed nei­ther group felt the im­pact of the cap­sule in­flat­ing or de­ploy­ing, and each pa­tient suc­cess­ful­ly ex­punged the rem­nants. The cap­sule was well tol­er­at­ed and the pres­ence (or ab­sence) of food in the stom­ach had no im­pact on the per­for­mance of the cap­sule, the com­pa­ny said.

“This is the first time a ro­bot­ic pill was swal­lowed by hu­mans — this re­al­ly paves the way for the next study which will have a drug, and we will be able to mea­sure drug lev­els,” Im­ran said.

The com­pa­ny has cho­sen to use a pill loaded with oc­treotide, an off-patent bi­o­log­ic that treats the hor­mon­al dis­or­der acromegaly, for the up­com­ing study, which the com­pa­ny ex­pects will com­mence in the com­ing months.

“If we’re suc­cess­ful in our next study, it re­al­ly means that we can de­liv­er any drug…in­clud­ing in­sulin and Hu­mi­ra and treat­ments for a whole host of oth­er dis­eases such as mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, he­mo­phil­ia and oth­er chron­ic con­di­tions,” he added.

But there’s a long road ahead. Each drug loaded in­to the cap­sule will re­quire a sep­a­rate study be­fore Rani can pe­ti­tion the FDA for ap­proval.

Mean­while, rat and pig da­ta on the oth­er ro­bot­ic pill — cre­at­ed by a team of re­searchers at MIT (in­clud­ing the pro­lif­ic drug de­liv­ery mae­stro Robert Langer) and No­vo Nordisk $NVO — an­nounced ear­li­er in Feb­ru­ary, has an al­ter­na­tive mech­a­nism of ac­tion.

The de­vice, called So­ma, en­cap­su­lates a nee­dle in­side a pill made of com­pressed freeze-dried in­sulin that is de­signed to ori­ent it­self when it comes in con­tact with the stom­ach lin­ing — in­spired by a leop­ard tor­toise, which bran­dish­es a shell that al­lows the African rep­tile to right it­self if it rolls on­to its back. Up­on con­tact with the wet in­ner lin­ing of the stom­ach (which is al­so de­void of pain re­cep­tors), a sug­ar disk hold­ing the nee­dle in place is dis­solved, mak­ing way for the nee­dle to re­lease its con­tents. The prod­uct is then en­gi­neered to dis­in­te­grate and trav­el harm­less­ly through the di­ges­tive sys­tem and even­tu­al­ly be elim­i­nat­ed, the re­searchers wrote in their re­port in Sci­ence. 

“One big dif­fer­ence is that we pre­date the MIT ef­fort by at least 5 years and our IP re­al­ly cov­ers every­thing they’re do­ing…their (So­ma’s) spring loaded de­liv­ery is some­thing we have very strong patents on, so I think they are go­ing to step on our IP. The de­sign of the nee­dle we have very strong patents on, and their nee­dle looks ex­act­ly like our nee­dle,” Im­ran said, em­pha­siz­ing the size of Rani’s patent port­fo­lio, which he claimed in­cludes 70 is­sued patents.

“The MIT group as far as we can tell has two patent ap­pli­ca­tions and nei­ther has been is­sued. Cer­tain­ly for us we see that (com­pe­ti­tion) as a pos­i­tive be­cause it val­i­dates our ap­proach in a very fun­da­men­tal way — not that we need that val­i­da­tion thanks to our an­i­mal stud­ies — but it’s re­al­ly nice to have Bob Langer on my heels.”

In re­sponse to Im­ran’s com­men­tary, Langer sug­gest­ed it was un­clear whether the MIT ap­proach is in­fring­ing on Rani’s patents.

Bob Langer

“I think it’s un­clear at this time — rec­og­niz­ing that we, Rani, and I’m sure oth­ers have a num­ber of patent ap­pli­ca­tions in this area — whether, for some ap­pli­ca­tions we are step­ping on their patents, they are step­ping on ours, and/or there are patents by oth­ers which will be im­por­tant,” he said in an emailed state­ment.

“Our goal in pub­lish­ing our work in a top peer re­viewed sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal (Sci­ence) was to get the sci­en­tif­ic prin­ci­ples we de­vel­oped out to the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty in the hopes that it can get to pa­tients. If that hap­pens through us, our col­lab­o­ra­tors at No­vo Nordisk, Rani, or some­one else, we will have achieved our goal.”

Found­ed in 2012, Rani Ther­a­peu­tics has raised $142 mil­lion in fund­ing from a slate of in­vestors in­clud­ing GV (the in­vest­ment arm of Al­pha­bet), and counts No­var­tis and Shire as its part­ners.

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Am­gen puts its foot down in shiny new South San Fran­cis­co hub as it re­or­ga­nizes R&D ops

Amgen has signed up to be AbbVie’s neighbor in South San Francisco as it moves into a nine-story R&D facility in the booming biotech hub.

The arrangement gives Amgen 240,000 square feet of space on the Gateway of Pacific Campus, just a few minutes drive from its current digs at Oyster Point. The new hub will open in 2022 and house the big biotech’s Bay Area employees working on cardiometabolic, inflammation and oncology research.

Ab­b­Vie, Scripps ex­pand part­ner­ship, for­ti­fy fo­cus on can­cer drugs

Scripps and AbbVie go way back. Research conducted in the lab of Scripps scientist Richard Lerner led to the discovery of Humira. The antibody, approved by the FDA in 2002 and sold by AbbVie, went on to become the world’s bestselling treatment. In 2018, the drugmaker and the non-profit organization signed a pact focused on developing cancer treatments — and now, the scope of that partnership has broadened to encompass a range of diseases, including immunological and neurological conditions.

South Ko­rea jails 3 Sam­sung ex­ecs for de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence in Bi­o­Log­ics probe

Three Samsung executives in Korea are going to jail.

The convictions came in what prosecutors had billed as “biggest crime of evidence destruction in the history of South Korea”: a case of alleged corporate intrigue that was thrown open when investigators found what was hidden beneath the floor of a Samsung BioLogics plant. Eight employees in total were found guilty of evidence tampering and the three executives were each sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Nick Plugis, Avak Kahvejian, Cristina Rondinone, Milind Kamkolkar and Chad Nusbaum. (Cellarity)

Cel­lar­i­ty, Flag­ship's $50M bet on net­work bi­ol­o­gy, mar­ries ma­chine learn­ing and sin­gle-cell tech for drug dis­cov­ery

Cellarity started with a simple — but far from easy — idea that Avak Kahvejian and his team were floating around at Flagship Pioneering: to digitally encode a cell.

As he and his senior associate Nick Plugis dug deeper into the concept, they found that most of the models others have developed take a bottom-up approach, where they assemble the molecules inside cells and the connections between them from scratch. What if they opt for a top-down approach, aided by single-cell transcriptomics and machine learning, to gauge the behavior of the entire cellular network?

Sanofi’s big week in­cludes a promis­ing PhI­II for an or­phan dis­ease drug, with plans for a pitch to the FDA

The biopharma R&D food chain is paying off with a plan at Sanofi to pitch regulators on a new drug for an orphan disease called cold agglutinin disease.

The pharma giant ushered out a statement Tuesday morning — after it spelled out plans to radically restructure the company, abandoning cardio and diabetes research altogether — saying that their C1s inhibitor sutimlimab had cleared the pivotal study.