Roche is bring­ing back gan­tenerum­ab from the dead, tak­ing an­oth­er stab at Alzheimer’s PhI­II

Mar­lies Spro­ll, Mor­phoSys

Alzheimer’s drugs are ex­pen­sive to test and un­like­ly to suc­ceed, but they are al­so hard to kill.

More than two years af­ter gan­tenerum­ab failed de­ci­sive­ly in treat­ing ear­ly-stage Alzheimer’s, Roche is map­ping out an at­tempt­ed come­back through a new, piv­otal Phase III pro­gram that puts them back in­to the late-stage pipeline with their sec­ond ther­a­py.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors stub­born­ly vowed back at an in­ter­na­tion­al Alzheimer’s con­fer­ence in 2015 that if you amped up the dosage of the amy­loid be­ta an­ti­body it would be pos­si­ble to track a re­al treat­ment ef­fect for Alzheimer’s, im­prov­ing cog­ni­tion and func­tion. And now Roche part­ner Mor­phoSys, which con­tributed its plat­form tech in dis­cov­er­ing the drug, says the phar­ma gi­ant is go­ing for it — again.

The Ger­man biotech says that its con­tacts at Roche are plan­ning to launch two Phase III stud­ies in mild to pro­dro­mal pa­tients some­time lat­er in the year, stick­ing to a group of pa­tients who are just be­gin­ning to demon­strate symp­toms of the mem­o­ry-wast­ing ail­ment.

Roche nev­er gave up on gan­tenerum­ab. Roche neu­ro­science de­vel­op­ment chief Paulo Fon­toura tells me they’ve been us­ing two ex­tend­ed stud­ies to see if they can safe­ly use a much, much high­er dose need­ed to have an im­pact on the dis­ease with­out stir­ring up dan­ger­ous lev­els of ARIA-E, or brain swelling.

“We want­ed to find out if 4- or 5-fold (high­er dos­es) would be suc­cess­ful,” Fon­toura tells me, while con­trol­ling any cas­es of ARIA-E. And all in­di­ca­tions,he adds, is that they are on the right track.

Noth­ing has worked in Alzheimer’s R&D over the last 14 years, and gan­tenerum­ab looked like it would join a list of the most promi­nent drugs in the field to wash out of a big Phase III. But re­searchers have al­so been em­bold­ened by bet­ter di­ag­nos­tics to se­lect pa­tients as well as by the ear­ly da­ta from Bio­gen’s ad­u­canum­ab pro­gram which has shown glim­mers of ef­fi­ca­cy. Eli Lil­ly on­ly re­cent­ly wrapped its last piv­otal shot at solanezum­ab, its third straight fail­ure.

Mer­ck has al­so con­tributed to the drum­beat of fail­ures, re­cent­ly con­ced­ing de­feat in the most ad­vanced study of a BACE drug that tried to move up­stream in the dis­ease process, pre­vent­ing the pro­duc­tion of tox­ic lev­els of amy­loid be­ta. And Lund­beck flopped with its three Phase III stud­ies of their 5-HT6 an­tag­o­nist idalopir­dine, leav­ing Ax­o­vant as the last com­pa­ny to test that symp­to­matic ap­proach in a piv­otal study.

Why the ded­i­ca­tion? There are no drugs that can mod­i­fy the pro­gres­sion of Alzheimer’s and a big de­mand for any new symp­to­matic ther­a­pies that can slow the im­pact of the dis­ease, leav­ing the field wide open for a block­buster in­tro­duc­tion. And with every set­back, re­searchers in­sist that the same drugs could work un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

Now Roche will soon have two piv­otal pro­grams for Alzheimer’s back in the clin­ic, with gan­tenerum­ab run­ning along­side crenezum­ab.

“This is great news for Mor­phoSys. We are de­light­ed by the strong com­mit­ment to gan­tenerum­ab as a po­ten­tial new ther­a­py for Alzheimer’s dis­ease”, com­ment­ed Mar­lies Spro­ll, the chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer of Mor­phoSys AG. “The Hu­CAL-de­rived an­ti­body gan­tenerum­ab has prop­er­ties that we be­lieve make it a promis­ing can­di­date to treat Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and we look for­ward to learn­ing more about these new Phase III tri­als.”

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, 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.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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Af­ter three years of courtship (and turn­downs), Mer­ck pounced on the first glance of clin­i­cal da­ta in $1.85B Pan­dion takeover

It’s almost become cliché for biotech executives to talk about the importance of keeping your options open and being prepared to go all the way. But when it comes to negotiating with a giant like Merck, a little patience can indeed go a long way.

Just ask Pandion Therapeutics.

Days ago we already learned that Merck is shelling out $1.85 billion to pick up the biotech and its slate of autoimmune hopefuls. What we didn’t know until the SEC disclosure dropped Thursday is that the deal comes after Pandion turned down two other proposals from Merck over the past three years and held out until the last minute for a sweetened deal.

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Eli Lil­ly claims a TKO in its long-run­ning ti­tle fight with No­vo Nordisk for the block­buster di­a­betes mar­ket — but there’s a hitch

Eli Lilly isn’t just gunning for a better diabetes drug in tirzepatide. They want to cut ahead of Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster rival Ozempic (semaglutide) on the obesity front as well. But a newly-claimed win in a head-to-head Phase III showdown over reducing A1C while shedding pounds — complete with clear evidence of superiority over the approved rival — could prove a tough sell right now.

Let’s start with the latest data from Lilly.

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