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.”

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; 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.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Joe Papa (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Joe Pa­pa re­signs as chair of Bausch Health as bil­lion­aire John Paul­son takes over

Joe Papa, chair of Bausch Health, officially resigned on Thursday and the board appointed billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson as the new chair, effective immediately.

The specialty pharma company sought to make clear that Papa’s abrupt departure “was not due to any dispute or disagreement with the Company, its management or the Board on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices.”

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Sanofi, GSK tout 72% Omi­cron ef­fi­ca­cy in PhI­II tri­al of next-gen, bi­va­lent shot — with an eye to year-end roll­out

Sometimes, being late can give you an advantage.

That’s what Sanofi and GSK are trying to say as the Big Pharma partners report positive results from a late-stage trial of their next-gen bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against both the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Beta variant. Specifically, against Omicron, they note, the vaccine delivered 72% efficacy in all adults and 93.2% in those previously infected.

GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.