#SITC18: An­oth­er un­der­whelm­ing per­for­mance for STING dam­ages Aduro’s al­ready suf­fer­ing share price

Aduro Biotech ex­ecs $ADRO made as much as they pos­si­bly could of the two par­tial re­spons­es re­searchers tracked among 40 heav­i­ly pre-treat­ed can­cer pa­tients in an ear­ly-stage study of their STING ther­a­py. But their de­fense at SITC wasn’t near­ly enough to save the Berke­ley, CA-based biotech from an­oth­er beat­ing at the hands of un­hap­py in­vestors.

Stephen Isaacs

Mer­ck set the stage at ES­MO last month when re­searchers ac­knowl­edged that their ri­val STING ther­a­py had no ef­fect on tu­mors as a monother­a­py, rais­ing ques­tions about the class and the drug at Aduro — which No­var­tis $NVS plunked down $200 mil­lion in cash to part­ner on. 

Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs called the mar­gin­al re­sults for ADU-S100 (MIW815) “promis­ing,” which was a bit of a stretch for his in­vestors. They drove the stock down 14% on Fri­day. And you can count Brad Lon­car — an in­de­pen­dent in­vestor in biotech and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor at End­points News — among the grow­ing ranks of skep­tics.

Brad Lon­car

Lon­car’s take: 

The bot­tom line with STING is that mouse mod­els ap­pear to be en­tire­ly non-pre­dic­tive. The ab­sco­pal ef­fect that was so ex­cit­ing pre­clin­i­cal­ly ap­pears to be at best mut­ed in hu­mans.  Some peo­ple were hop­ing for an ‘ah ha’ mo­ment with this one and that’s not hap­pen­ing un­for­tu­nate­ly. It’s too ear­ly to com­plete­ly write it off, and to their cred­it these are heav­i­ly pre­treat­ed pa­tients, but count on years of go­ing back to the draw­ing board for STING.

The com­pa­nies aren’t about to back down at this stage, though. Re­searchers are pur­su­ing a Phase Ib with No­var­tis’ PD-1 spar­tal­izum­ab (PDR001) to check on any syn­er­gies that could ex­ist with the check­point crowd — which is where Mer­ck has been fo­cused. And they added an arm to the ini­tial study which match­es their STING with Bris­tol-My­ers’ oth­er promi­nent check­point, the CT­LA-4 drug Yer­voy.

The biotech has had to deal with a string of set­backs, in­clud­ing the abrupt de­par­ture of J&J from their part­ner­ship a few weeks ago, torch­ing a deal that in­clud­ed more than a bil­lion dol­lars in mile­stones. And last year the com­pa­ny had to punt CRS-207, af­ter that drug al­so per­formed poor­ly in tri­als.

Aduro has al­so been hit this year by some un­ex­plained de­par­tures from the top ranks, in­clud­ing CMO Na­tal­ie Sacks, who left at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber. The CFO, Gre­go­ry Schafer, left in March. 

Back at the end of March, their stock trad­ed at a 2018 high of $9.30. Fri­day’s close at $3.63 leaves the sink­ing stock down 61% off that mark.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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Ver­sant-backed Chi­nook gets a $65M launch round for its dis­cov­ery quest in a resur­gent kid­ney field

Versant is once again stepping off the beaten track in biotech to see if they can blaze a trail of their own in a field that has looked too thorny to many investors for years.

The venture group and their partners at Apple Tree are bringing their latest creation out of stealth mode today. Born in Versant’s Inception Sciences’ Chinook Therapeutics is betting that its preclinical take on kidney disease can get an early lead among the companies starting up in the field.

Sir An­drew Dil­lon, NICE's first — and on­ly — chief ex­ec­u­tive to step down next year

Using a laptop borrowed from his former employer, South London’s St George’s Hospital, Sir Andrew Dillon set about establishing NICE — launched by the then health secretary Frank Dobson — in 1999.  On Thursday, the UK cost-effectiveness watchdog said its first and only chief executive — Dillon — is stepping down in March 2020.

Back in the day, decisions about which drugs and interventions were funded by the National Health Service (NHS) were made at the local level, but this ‘postcode prescribing’ system was fraught with skewed healthcare deployment making the structure unsustainable. A national system was deemed necessary — and NICE was formed to bridge that gap.

Eight weeks be­tween each HIV treat­ment? GSK notch­es PhI­II win as it chas­es OK for long-act­ing reg­i­men

GSK has cleared another test in its grand plan to topple Gilead’s HIV dominance by offering alternative treatments that consist of fewer drugs and last longer. A year after scoring positive Phase III data on a four-week course of cabotegravir and rilpivirine, its ViiV subsidiary now says that an eight-week regimen seem to work just as well.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Mer­ck Serono’s Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent and Glob­al Head of On­col­o­gy
EL­LIOTT LEVY — Am­gen’s Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Glob­al De­vel­op­ment
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfiz­er On­col­o­gy’s Chief De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Finch grabs a $53M round de­signed to take their ‘break­through’ mi­cro­bio­me treat­ment through a po­ten­tial­ly piv­otal tri­al

With a breakthrough designation in one hand and a fresh $53 million in venture backing in the other, Somerville, MA-based Finch Therapeutics is taking a shot at a one-trial pathway to a possible FDA OK for their new treatment for preventing recurrent C. difficile infections.

The funding brings their total raise for the microbiome company to $130 million, CEO Mark Smith tells me — enough money to pave a runway past the FDA approval they’ve sketched into the most optimistic version for their near-term future. 

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll