Say good­bye to Toca­gen, strug­gling brain can­cer biotech to re­verse merge with Forte Bio­sciences

Five months af­ter a huge Phase III fail­ure trig­gered mass lay­offs at the com­pa­ny, Toca­gen will sign it­self out of ex­is­tence.

Paul Wag­n­er

The biotech, once fo­cused on brain can­cer, an­nounced it has signed a re­verse merg­er agree­ment with Forte Bio­sciences, a biotech tack­ling atopic der­mati­tis and oth­er in­flam­ma­to­ry skin dis­eases. Toca­gen’s stock shot up 85% on the news, al­though that on­ly trans­lat­ed to a 41-cent bump for a com­pa­ny that saw the last of its val­ue go poof in Sep­tem­ber. The new com­pa­ny will trade un­der the tick­er $FBRX.

Just two years ago, Toca­gen went pub­lic and raised $85 mil­lion on the promise of a two-part ther­a­py for glioblas­toma. Part 1 used a vec­tor to at­tack can­cer cells and de­liv­er the gene for an en­zyme and Part 2 was a pro­drug that con­verts in­to an an­ti-can­cer drug. It was an in­trigu­ing ap­proach to a dead­ly in­di­ca­tion that has evad­ed most pre­vi­ous at­tempts, but in Sep­tem­ber, in its biggest test, the two-part ther­a­py showed all but no signs of work­ing.

In fact, pa­tients on the con­trol arm lived a month longer on av­er­age than pa­tients on the drug arm, 12.2 vs 11.1. That com­put­ed to a haz­ard ra­tio of 1.06 and a p-val­ue of 0.62. The com­pa­ny’s stock dropped 81% on the an­nounce­ment, and a month lat­er they cut 65% of their work­force, leav­ing the San Diego-based biotech with just 30 em­ploy­ees.

There is lit­tle read­i­ly avail­able pub­lic in­for­ma­tion on Forte Bio­sciences – there is no ap­par­ent web­site – but they now have some high-pro­file back­ers. When the merg­er clos­es, an in­vestor syn­di­cate led by Al­ger, BVF Part­ners and Or­biMed will in­vest $14 mil­lion, the com­pa­ny said. They said that will bring their to­tal amount raised to $25 mil­lion. They were found­ed in 2017 and soon af­ter be­gan look­ing for an ini­tial $10.6 mil­lion fund­ing round, ac­cord­ing to an SEC doc­u­ment, and are led by Paul Wag­n­er, the for­mer chief busi­ness of­fi­cer at CAN­bridge Life Sci­ences.

The com­pa­ny said their lead as­set is FB-401, a top­i­cal drug for an in­flam­ma­to­ry skin dis­ease that showed “sig­nif­i­cant ef­fi­ca­cy” in a Phase I/II tri­al, the re­sults of which will be sub­mit­ted to a peer-re­viewed jour­nal in mid-2020. A Phase II on atopic der­mati­tis pa­tients is sched­uled to be­gin in mid-2020, with a read­out in mid-2021.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Marcelo Bigal, Ventus Therapeutics CEO

No­vo Nordisk joins No­var­tis, Roche in NL­RP3 are­na, bet­ting $70M cash on NASH, car­diometa­bol­ic us­es

As a drug target, the NLRP3 inflammasome has drawn serious interest from Big Pharma, inspiring a series of M&A deals from Novartis and Roche on top of venture investments by others. Now Novo Nordisk is jumping on the bandwagon — and the Danish pharma giant is taking the target where it knows best.

Novo Nordisk is getting its NLRP3 inhibitors from Ventus Therapeutics, a Versant-backed startup that set out to make some of the best NLRP3 drugs out there by incorporating new insights into the structure of the target complex.

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Phillip Gomez, Siga Technologies CEO

Siga nabs $10.7M from the US gov­ern­ment in deal for its mon­key­pox an­tivi­ral

The US government is all set to buy $10.7 million worth of Siga Technologies’ monkeypox oral antiviral, the company announced Thursday.

Of the total doses, $5.1 million worth of oral antivirals called Tpoxx (tecovirimat) will be delivered this year, with the US Department of Defense having the option of buying the rest at a later point.

The new contract follows an earlier one in which the government had purchased $7.4 million worth of Tpoxx from the company.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

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Renhong Tang, Simcere co-CEO

Almi­rall part­ners up with Sim­cere in po­ten­tial $500M+ deal — with plans to take IL-2 can­di­date glob­al

A Chinese pharma is looking to go international with one of its preclinical candidates, and it’s teaming up with a Spanish company in a new pact potentially worth half a billion dollars to do just that.

Simcere and Almirall announced Thursday that the two companies had reached a deal for Simcere’s IL-2 mutant fusion protein drug candidate, called SIM0278. According to a statement, Almirall gets an exclusive right to develop and commercialize the drug candidate in all indications and markets outside of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

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Work taking place in the clean rooms at Vor (Credit: Vor)

Vor Bio opts to keep man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions in-house for de­vel­op­ing stem cell, CAR-T ther­a­pies

While it is not uncommon for a biotech to go down the route of having the product manufactured by a contract organization, one small biotech is looking to keep its card close to its chest.

Vor Biopharma has started manufacturing operations at an in-house facility at its HQ in Cambridge, MA after beginning construction last summer.

According to the biotech, the facility aims to develop Vor’s hematopoietic stem cells (eHSCs) and CAR-T therapies for patients with blood cancers. The site will initially manufacture a clinical supply of its candidate VCAR33allo to support its IND, which is slated to be submitted in the first half of next year. It also plans to transfer the production of VOR33 to the facility. Vor is getting to work quickly as engineering runs for VCAR33allo has started this week.