Roger Tsien, 1952-2016: “I’ve al­ways been at­tract­ed to col­ors”

Roger Tsien, 1952-2016. Cred­it: UCSD

The No­bel Prize-win­ning chemist Roger Tsien died at the age of 64 yes­ter­day, trig­ger­ing a stream of glow­ing eu­lo­gies from the peo­ple who knew him or fol­lowed his work.

Best known for his ground­break­ing work on flu­o­res­cent pro­teins, the UC San Diego pro­fes­sor was al­so the in­spi­ra­tion for a string of biotechs set up in the San Diego area. Ave­las Bio­sciences just land­ed a $20 mil­lion round to pur­sue the de­vel­op­ment of a can­cer ‘il­lu­mi­na­tor’ dubbed AVB-620. That was the third start­up Aval­on Ven­tures had found­ed with Tsien’s help.

I’ve al­ways been at­tract­ed to col­ors,” Dr. Tsien told the Union-Tri­bune at one point. “Col­or helps make the work more in­ter­est­ing and en­durable. It helps when things aren’t go­ing well. If I had been born col­or­blind, I prob­a­bly nev­er would have gone in­to this.”

There’s still no word on just what killed him on a bike trail in Eu­gene, OR. But what­ev­er the cause, his death spurred con­sid­er­able sad­ness at the sud­den and un­ex­pect­ed loss. Here are a few of those eu­lo­gies:

Derek Lowe, who blogs at In The Pipeline, had this to say:

Tsien’s dis­cov­er­ies have been cru­cial for vi­su­al­iz­ing mol­e­c­u­lar bi­ol­o­gy tech­niques as ap­plied to liv­ing cells and in vit­ro pro­tein sys­tems, and every­one do­ing bio­phar­ma dis­cov­ery re­search will con­stant­ly en­counter pro­teins, as­says, and cell lines based on them.

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that he changed the course of the field; he gave it spec­tac­u­lar­ly use­ful tools it had nev­er had be­fore. Tsien’s loss is a sud­den blow, and I’m sure I can speak for many oth­ers when I say that it’s news that we all could have done with­out just now.



Eliz­a­beth Black­burn, a No­bel lau­re­ate and pres­i­dent of the Salk In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies in La Jol­la, told the San Diego Union-Tri­bune:

“Roger Tsien was tru­ly one of the most re­mark­able and in­spir­ing sci­en­tists of our time. He will be sore­ly missed as a col­league for his rev­o­lu­tion­ary work and keen mind, and al­so as a won­der­ful per­son. I felt priv­i­leged to get to know him over the years.”

Pradeep Khosla, chan­cel­lor of UC San Diego:

Every hon­or was just­ly de­served, and al­ways re­ceived with hu­mil­i­ty. Roger was an ex­tra­or­di­nary man: kind, gen­er­ous, gra­cious, and al­ways the con­sum­mate sci­en­tist push­ing the lim­its of his work to ex­pand the pos­si­bil­i­ties of sci­ence. He was a rare tal­ent we can­not re­place.”

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

BeiGene CEO John Oyler at an Endpoints event in Shanghai, October 2018 (Credit: Endpoints News/PharmCube)

UP­DAT­ED: In a first, FDA green-lights use of a Chi­nese built can­cer ther­a­py — and more are com­ing

Weeks after Amgen took a $2.7 billion stake in BeiGene, the Beijing-based biotech has secured its first-ever FDA approval for zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, months ahead of schedule.

BeiGene’s drug, branded as Brukinsa, has secured accelerated approval for adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) — a typically aggressive, rare, form of blood cancer — who have received at least one prior therapy.

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