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.”

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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