Short­age of mon­keys slowed down Eli Lil­ly's Covid-19 an­ti­body part­ner. And it's a prob­lem for every­one

It may not be sur­pris­ing that Shang­hai Jun­shi Bio­sciences has pushed back some clin­i­cal tri­als to pri­or­i­tize its Eli Lil­ly-part­nered Covid-19 an­ti­body. But what ex­act­ly was suck­ing up their time is al­most cer­tain to raise some eye­brows: The com­pa­ny spent months find­ing enough mon­keys on which to test the ex­per­i­men­tal drug.

Jun­shi’s plight high­lights a se­ri­ous, if oft-un­der­looked, chal­lenge that’s be­set the whole bio­med­ical re­search en­ter­prise. Test­ing a mol­e­cule on non-hu­man pri­mates is of­ten a cru­cial fi­nal step be­fore it can be moved in­to the clin­ic, but a con­flu­ence of fac­tors have re­sult­ed in a short­age in both the US and Eu­rope just as drug­mak­ers were scram­bling to put their ex­per­i­men­tal pro­grams through tri­als at record speed.

Jun­shi COO Feng Hui told in­vestors on a call on Fri­day that the short­age was acute be­tween Feb­ru­ary and June, when the biotech was com­pet­ing with oth­er com­pa­nies and in­sti­tutes.

But the is­sue re­mains un­re­solved. Just days ago, the Eu­ro­pean An­i­mal Re­search As­so­ci­a­tion brought at­ten­tion to a “grow­ing short­age of pur­pose-bred macaque mon­key” used in Covid-19 and oth­er vi­tal re­search.

One of the main bot­tle­necks is how Chi­na, a main source of mon­keys for med­ical re­search, has banned the ex­port from breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties since the be­gin­ning of 2020 cit­ing con­cerns about the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

“The on­go­ing em­bar­go is now be­gin­ning to have se­ri­ous con­se­quences for re­search in Eu­rope and the rest of the world,” the group wrote in a state­ment. Kirk Leech, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, added: “Mon­keys play a crit­i­cal role in the de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines, such as those for Covid-19, and ur­gent in­ter­na­tion­al co-op­er­a­tion is need­ed to lift the ban.”

In a let­ter urg­ing the WHO to in­ter­vene, EARA ar­gued that “while the sus­pen­sion was pru­dent at the time it has be­come clear that an­i­mals ex­port­ed from Chi­na pos­sess a very low risk of trans­mit­ting any com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease.” Re­search mon­keys, they added, are al­so sub­ject to strict rules in han­dling and trans­porta­tion, in­clud­ing quar­an­tine and per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment re­quire­ments.

Still, those fac­ing the chal­lenge are not op­ti­mistic that the prob­lem will be solved soon. As the At­lantic re­port­ed in Au­gust, Bio­qual — which has done pri­mate re­search for Mod­er­na’s vac­cine and sev­er­al oth­er Covid-19 play­ers — said while it was ini­tial­ly able to reuse some an­i­mals from non-dis­ease stud­ies, the sup­ply had been used up.

New macaques al­so cost $10,000, dou­ble the orig­i­nal price.

“This may just be the be­gin­ning,” R. Kei­th Reeves, a vi­rol­o­gist at Har­vard work­ing on HIV, told the At­lantic. “And I think that we’re all prepar­ing for there to be sig­nif­i­cant de­lays.”

For its part, Jun­shi has pro­ceed­ed in­to hu­man tri­als of its an­ti­body. Re­sults from a re­cent study test­ing it in com­bi­na­tion with bam­lanivimab, the an­ti­body de­vel­oped by Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera, im­pressed an­a­lysts and paved the way for an emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion re­quest. The FDA has grant­ed an EUA for bam­lanivimab.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

So­cial: AP Im­ages

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, 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.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

Covid-19 roundup: RE­COV­ERY tri­al halts re­cruit­ment for colchicine study af­ter find­ing ‘no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence’; Italy blocks As­traZeneca vac­cine ship­ment meant for Aus­tralia

It may be the end of the road for colchicine, an inexpensive oral anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat gout, as a potential Covid-19 treatment — at least in hospitalized patients.

The UK’s RECOVERY trial put out the word on Friday that it’s halting enrollment in its colchicine study after a data monitoring committee saw “no convincing evidence that further recruitment would provide conclusive proof of worthwhile mortality benefit either overall or in any pre-specified subgroup.”

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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Brii Bio joins the NIH grave­yard along­side GSK, Lil­ly af­ter flop­ping an­ti­body study in hos­pi­tal­ized Covid-19 pa­tients

Just a day after GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology’s Covid-19 antibody fell flat in an NIH-sponsored trial for hospitalized patients, researchers have ejected another therapy from the study. Is this the death knell for monoclonal antibodies for those patients?

An antibody cocktail from Brii Biosciences failed to show a trend toward clinical benefit in the NIH’s ACTIV-3 trial, and as a result, did not meet criteria for further enrollment. As such, the NIH shut down the study subgroup evaluating the program Thursday, which contains the two Brii antibodies dubbed BRII-196 and BRII-198.