#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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Mark Mal­lon charts post-Iron­wood course by tak­ing CEO job at NeoGe­nomics; Glax­o­SmithK­line vet Feng Ren joins In­sil­i­co as CSO

Mark Mallon steps aside at Ironwood on March 12 after close to two years at the helm, and he already has a new change of scenery squared away. Beginning April 19, Mallon takes charge as CEO of cancer-focused genetic test maker NeoGenomics out of Fort Myers, FL while his predecessor, Douglas VanOort, is retiring after 12 years as NeoGenomics’ chairman and CEO.

It’s a fresh start for Mallon after what will amount to a tumultuous 23 months as Ironwood’s chief executive. Last year was marked by trial failures that spelled double trouble, leaving the Ironwood cupboard bare: first, a Linzess reformulation for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) in May, and then the drug IW-3718 for persistent acid reflux in September. After IW-3718’s discontinuation, Ironwood chopped its staff by 35%. On Feb. 8, Mallon announced his departure at Ironwood, with president Tom McCourt getting bumped up to interim CEO.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; FDA ap­proves Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine stor­age at stan­dard freez­er temps

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.