SQZ play: Roche dou­bles down on a $1.37B-plus deal for a new ap­proach to im­muno-on­col­o­gy out of Bob Langer's lab

Ar­mon Sharei

What­ev­er Roche $ROG learned about SQZ over the last 33 months clear­ly on­ly whet­ted their ap­petite for much, much more.

This morn­ing SQZ is un­veil­ing a re­vise-re­place-and-ex­pand de­vel­op­ment pact with the Wa­ter­town, MA-based biotech, one of many to emerge from the lab of MIT’s Bob Langer. 

In this new deal Roche is putting up $125 mil­lion for an up­front and near-term mile­stones in a col­lab­o­ra­tion deal em­bed­ded with $1 bil­lion in de­vel­op­ment goal mon­ey. An­oth­er $250 mil­lion is on the line for each new ther­a­py that man­ages to make it all the way to an ap­proval.

“It’s a huge step for us,” CEO Ar­mon Sharei told me over the week­end in an ad­vance re­view of the news that ar­rived Mon­day morn­ing. 

An per­haps it’s an even big­ger step than he may be will­ing to al­low right now.

Amy Schul­man

Sharei popped up over the sum­mer with a $72 mil­lion round to back his com­pa­ny, which start­ed 5 years ago on a shoe­string bud­get to es­sen­tial­ly work on an in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment tool. Now the com­pa­ny has 76 staffers — head­ed to 100 — with a gi­ant part­ner al­lied on a clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­gram set to be­gin next year.

Add in a Big Phar­ma vet, Po­laris part­ner Amy Schul­man, as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, and you have the per­fect pro­file for an IPO.

Sharei and Schul­man veered away from that top­ic in our dis­cus­sion, pre­fer­ring to talk about a ma­tur­ing de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy to build a pipeline around their plat­form cell tech­nol­o­gy.

Bob Langer

What Sharei had worked on in Langer’s lab was a de­vice that squeezed a cell, cre­at­ing open­ings for reengi­neer­ing the cell in­to some­thing new. In this case, they’re adding anti­gens that are in­tend­ed to pro­voke a storm of CD8 killer cells that can be di­rect­ed against can­cer, the kind of im­muno-on­col­o­gy play that’s at­trac­tive on Wall Street. And they’re promis­ing that their drugs can be man­u­fac­tured rel­a­tive­ly eas­i­ly, giv­ing them a clear com­mer­cial path to fol­low.

This new deal is with Basel-based pRED, as op­posed to Genen­tech’s gRED side of the R&D op­er­a­tion at Roche. 

That’s the kind of com­pa­ny you want to keep in a lead-up to an IPO, es­pe­cial­ly when the VC mon­ey has piled up.

We’ll like­ly see how the SQZ play works on Wall Street.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Pascal Soriot, AP

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot sev­ers an un­usu­al board con­nec­tion, steer­ing clear of con­flicts while re­tain­ing im­por­tant al­liances

CSL Behring chief Paul Perreault scored an unusual coup last summer when he added AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot to the board, via Zoom. It’s rare, to say the least, to see a Big Pharma CEO take any board post in an industry where interests can simultaneously connect and collide on multiple levels of operations.

The tie set the stage for an important manufacturing connection. The Australian pharma giant agreed to supply the country with 10s of millions of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, once it passes regulatory muster.

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Adeno-associated virus-1 illustration; the use of AAVs resurrected the gene therapy field, but companies are now testing the limits of a 20-year-old technology (File photo, Shutterstock)

Af­ter 3 deaths rock the field, gene ther­a­py re­searchers con­tem­plate AAV's fu­ture

Nicole Paulk was scrolling through her phone in bed early one morning in June when an email from a colleague jolted her awake. It was an article: Two patients in an Audentes gene therapy trial had died, grinding the study to a halt.

Paulk, who runs a gene therapy lab at the University of California, San Francisco, had planned to spend the day listening to talks at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, which was taking place that week. Instead, she skipped the conference, canceled every work call on her calendar and began phoning colleagues across academia and industry, trying to figure out what happened and why. All the while, a single name hung in the back of her head.

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Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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Anthony Fauci, NIAID director (AP Images)

As new Covid-19 task force gets un­der­way, threat looms of vac­cine, mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body-re­sis­tant vari­ants

Hours before President Biden’s Covid-19 team gave their first virtual press conference, the famed AIDS researcher David Ho delivered concerning news in a new pre-print: SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351, the variant that emerged in South Africa, is “markedly more resistant” to antibodies from convalescent plasma and vaccinated individuals.

The news for several monoclonal antibodies, including Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab, was even worse: Their ability to neutralize was “completely or markedly abolished,” Ho wrote. Lilly’s antibody cocktail, which was just shown to dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalizations or death, also became far less potent.

Jackie Fouse, Agios CEO

Agios scores its sec­ond pos­i­tive round of da­ta for its lead pipeline drug — but that won't an­swer the stub­born ques­tions that sur­round this pro­gram

Agios $AGIO bet the farm on its PKR activator drug mitapivat when it recently decided to sell off its pioneering cancer drug Tibsovo and go back to being a development-stage company — for what CEO Jackie Fouse hoped would be a short stretch before they got back into commercialization.

On Tuesday evening, the bellwether biotech flashed more positive topline data — this time from a small group of patients in a single-arm study. And the executive team plans to package this with its earlier positive results from a controlled study to make its case for a quick OK.

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Drug­mak­ers 'inch­ing ahead' in in­creas­ing ac­cess to drugs world­wide, with Glax­o­SmithK­line lead­ing the pack

Top drug developers are “inching ahead” in improving access to much-needed drugs around the world — an issue that has been underscored by the Covid-19 pandemic. But there’s still more work to do, Access to Medicine Foundation executive director Jayasree Iyer said.

Every two years, the Access to Medicines Index ranks the top 20 biotechs leading the push for better access to medicines in low- and middle-income countries. This year’s report, published Tuesday, looks at drug access in 106 countries.