Sean Park­er’s can­cer in­sti­tute keeps grow­ing with some “mind blow­ing” new re­search projects

Sean Park­er Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Eigh­teen months af­ter so­cial me­dia mogul Sean Park­er an­ted up $250 mil­lion to launch a new can­cer in­sti­tute de­vot­ed to ground­break­ing re­search work, the group is still ab­sorb­ing labs and top in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­to its swelling net­work. This week, the Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py wel­comed a string of labs at the Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute led by some of the best-known sci­en­tists in on­col­o­gy.

These sci­en­tists in­clude Stephen Ho­di, who led the first hu­man study of Yer­voy (ip­il­i­mum­ab), a pi­o­neer­ing CT­LA-4 check­point drug that has been play­ing a pri­ma­ry role in im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­bo stud­ies. Ho­di has been fo­cus­ing on break­ing down re­sis­tance to the new check­points sweep­ing the field. The list al­so in­volves Cather­ine Wu, an anti­gen ex­pert whose been work­ing on iden­ti­fy­ing new tar­gets that can whip up a more ef­fec­tive im­mune re­sponse to can­cer. Philip Kranzusch — study­ing the cGAS-STING path­way to con­trol im­mune sig­nal­ing and an­ti­tu­mor im­mu­ni­ty — and Nick Hain­ing, con­cen­trat­ing on T cells, are al­so sign­ing up.

Jeff Blue­stone

PI­CI CEO (and UC San Fran­cis­co pro­fes­sor) Jeff Blue­stone tells me that they have more than 60 labs in the net­work now, in­clud­ing more than 300 sci­en­tists in the front ranks of a glob­al army of in­ves­ti­ga­tors who are push­ing on­col­o­gy R&D on to the next lev­el.

“It’s more than just a num­bers game,” he says. These new ad­di­tions to the group in­clude ex­per­tise on neoanti­gens and check­point re­sis­tance, which fig­ures promi­nent­ly in the 4 key ar­eas they’re con­cen­trat­ing on. And there are dozens of bio­phar­ma al­liances in the mix, mul­ti­ply­ing now to the point where it can be dif­fi­cult to stay on top of it all.

“I think the phi­los­o­phy in the in­sti­tute is do­ing things step­wise,” he adds, “not just big splashy stuff.”

That all fits in­to what Blue­stone calls his sand­box anal­o­gy. There has to be a con­tained, or­ga­nized ap­proach to their work; a prac­ti­cal strat­e­gy dri­ven by a set of clear goals. It isn’t an un­lim­it­ed, beach-like per­spec­tive.

And the in­ves­ti­ga­tors have to play to­geth­er in the sand­box.

That means shar­ing ideas in twice an­nu­al re­treats or the month­ly calls with the di­rec­tors of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Sci­en­tists get a chance to pitch new ideas and talk about what they’re work­ing on, look­ing for ways to col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers on projects or just get some fresh per­spec­tive.

PI­CI al­so wants to stay in the “white space,” says Blue­stone, the ar­eas of un­met med­ical need where progress is most need­ed — tough ar­eas like pan­cre­at­ic can­cer.

At this point, the in­dus­try has pumped bil­lions of dol­lars in­to can­cer re­search in a short pe­ri­od of time, cre­at­ing a field that in many re­spects dom­i­nates the glob­al bio­phar­ma busi­ness. And Blue­stone is acute­ly aware that stay­ing on the cut­ting edge is no easy task.

“It’s crowd­ed,” he notes, “in some re­spects it’s a bub­ble.”

But PI­CI plans to keep grow­ing, adding sci­en­tists who are in this for the long haul un­til it gets to the point that the sand­box is full. Where that line is drawn, Blue­stone adds, hasn’t been de­ter­mined. But he thinks he’ll know it when he gets there.

Says Blue­stone: “It’s just mind blow­ing what’s out there.”

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.