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.”

Bio­mark­er 'roadmap­s' and the fu­ture of can­cer R&D; Cur­tain rais­es on #AS­CO22; Pfiz­er, No­var­tis tack­le drug ac­cess; 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.

While this was not a week for earth-shattering news, there were certainly a lot of interesting tidbits. If you found this recap helpful, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you on the other side of the long weekend.

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Keep­ing pres­sure on Am­gen, Mi­rati draws mixed re­views on lat­est cut of KRAS da­ta

As the close runner-up to Amgen’s Lumakras in the KRAS race, any data cut from Mirati’s adagrasib continues to draw scrutiny from analysts. And the latest batch of numbers from ASCO is a decidedly mixed bag.

While a quick comparison suggests that adagrasib spurred slightly more responses and led to a longer overall survival than Lumakras among a group of non-small cell lung cancer patients, its duration of response appears shorter and the safety profile continues to spark concern.

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Tran­si­tion to new Eu­ro­pean clin­i­cal tri­als in­fo sys­tem starts slow­ly

At the end of January, the European Medicines Agency officially launched its new clinical trials info system (CTIS), although the migration to the new platform has only really just begun, and sponsors have until the end of January 2023 before all initial trial applications must be submitted through CTIS.

Overall, 56 clinical trial applications have been submitted in CTIS during the first 3 months since the launch of the system on Jan. 31, according to new data posted by the EMA. By comparison, about 4,000 new trials are authorized each year across Europe.

Ann is one of ViiV Healthcare's newest spokespeople as the retired school administrator speaks up about her HIV status.

GSK's Vi­iV de­buts next evo­lu­tion in HIV med Dova­to cam­paign with new spokes­peo­ple and new mes­sage

When Ann saw the first TV commercials for HIV medicine Dovato, she didn’t see herself represented. So the 74-year-old retired school administrator who’s been living with HIV since 1998, reached out to GSK’s ViiV Healthcare and asked why not?

Now Ann is one of three people starring in ViiV’s latest Dovato campaign called “Detect This.” The next-step evolution in the branded campaign plays on the word “detect” — often used in describing HIV status under control as undetectable — but in this case, uses the word as a directive for people to understand they can use fewer medicines.

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Switzer­land to de­stroy over 600,000 ex­pired dos­es of Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine

As concerns related to uptake and distribution continue to linger, Switzerland is among the first countries that plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The European country said it plans to destroy more than 600,000 doses of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine as the doses have reached their expiration date.

However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that he’s in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage, exclaiming, “We have a big demand problem.”

AS­CO ab­stracts mint some ear­ly win­ners, but Io­vance, Spring­Works get hit by mas­sive loss­es

Before cancer-focused biotechs start their trek to the first in-person American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual conference since the pandemic began, investors have taken a good look at the teasers for the data scheduled to be presented — and started placing bets.

With its power to confer overnight fame, ASCO is a stage where impressive or surprise debut performances can go a long way. On the other hand, disappointing details could be punishing.

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Nassim Usman, Catalyst Biosciences CEO

Af­ter $60M Ver­tex deal, group of Cat­a­lyst share­hold­ers claims biotech could’ve sold as­sets three years ago

Catalyst Biosciences was down to five employees in March, and the biotech needed to do something after two rounds of layoffs, a nixed collaboration and a culling of its hemophilia program.

In came Vertex, with $60 million to buy up the South San Francisco biotech’s preclinical complement drugs, which target the system that bridges the body’s innate and adaptive immune response and a class most known for Ultomiris and Soliris. The deal includes CB 2782-PEG, the dry AMD drug that Biogen no longer wanted in March.

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Levi Garraway, Roche CMO (Genentech)

Roche's CD20xCD3 does­n't beat Gen­mab at ORR, but sets bar for CR da­ta on lym­phoma drug

On its way to potentially becoming the first to market with a CD20xCD3 bispecific for aggressive lymphoma, Big Pharma’s largest R&D spender has some more data to pad its case with an FDA filing slated for later this year.

Roche dropped some more details from a Phase II expansion study of its fixed-duration glofitamab, to be presented at next week’s ASCO annual meeting, in patients with relapsed or refractory (R/R) diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The patients had received a median of three prior therapies.

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Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP Images)

Pile-on over PBMs con­tin­ues with FTC com­ments and a new bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate bill

More than 500 stakeholders sent comments to the FTC on whether the commission should look further into pharma middlemen, known as PBMs, with many of the commenters calling for more federal oversight.

Similar to the critical open comment period in a deadlocked FTC session last February, pharmacies and pharmacy groups are continuing to call out the lack of transparency among the top 3 PBMs, which control about 80% of the market.