Paul Laikind, ViaCyte CEO

Stem cell play­er Vi­a­Cyte ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gore to de­vel­op sub­cu­ta­neous di­a­betes treat­ment

Long­time stem cell play­er Vi­a­Cyte has teamed up with a ma­te­ri­als sci­ence com­pa­ny in an ef­fort to solve im­muno­sup­pres­sion chal­lenges and ad­vance its type 1 di­a­betes treat­ments.

Ex­pand­ing on an ex­ist­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion, Vi­a­Cyte and W.L. Gore have agreed to com­bine the biotech’s PEC-En­cap can­di­date with a Gore-pro­duced mem­brane in what they hope will elim­i­nate the need for im­muno­sup­pres­sive drugs. Such treat­ments have cre­at­ed for­eign body re­spons­es in the past, and stamp­ing these re­ac­tions out is the main goal, Vi­a­Cyte CEO Paul Laikind said.

Such re­spons­es “ba­si­cal­ly can lead to a de­po­si­tion of what’s called for­eign-body gi­ant cells on the sur­face of the de­vice” and in­ter­fere with its process­es, Laikind told End­points News. Vi­a­Cyte and Gore’s fo­cus is cut­ting these re­ac­tions out en­tire­ly.

The prod­uct is de­signed to be im­plant­ed un­der­neath the skin and de­liv­er pan­cre­at­ic prog­en­i­tor cells that can se­crete in­sulin and con­trol blood glu­cose lev­els, in essence be­com­ing func­tion­al tis­sue. Not on­ly do the com­pa­nies aim to pro­vide this treat­ment but al­so pro­tect the cells from the hosts’ im­mune sys­tems, as the mem­brane al­lows for the cre­ation of a vas­cu­lar net­work on the sur­face of the de­vice.

Kevin D’Amour

“Those pan­cre­at­ic cells stay in the de­vice, and we’re es­sen­tial­ly re­plac­ing the nor­mal hu­man cells that are lost or dys­func­tion­al in di­a­betes pa­tients,” said Vi­a­Cyte CSO Kevin D’Amour. “They’re be­hold­en to in­ject­ing ex­oge­nous in­sulin to con­trol their blood sug­ar.”

Even though Laikind said the goal is to, es­sen­tial­ly, cure type 1 di­a­betes by way of these cell and hor­mone re­place­ments, the com­pa­nies would be con­tent by sim­ply re­duc­ing the need for in­jectable in­sulin use as that would still con­sti­tute a sig­nif­i­cant ther­a­peu­tic ad­vance.

Erin Hutchin­son

Erin Hutchin­son, a busi­ness leader at Gore, said the tricky part in cre­at­ing the right kind of mem­brane is get­ting the lev­el of per­me­abil­i­ty ex­act­ly cor­rect.

“You don’t want the cells in­side to es­cape and you don’t want the im­mune sys­tem to get in,” Hutchin­son said. “On the oth­er hand, you do want to al­low for trans­port, for things like oxy­gen, in­sulin, glu­cose, etc. And so that’s kind of the chal­lenge, de­sign­ing a mem­brane as part of an over­all de­vice that can do that.”

Stem cell R&D had been a hype train in ear­ly in­vest­ments but has since turned in­to a long-run­ning af­fair, and Vi­a­Cyte is no dif­fer­ent from oth­er such biotechs in this re­gard. The com­pa­ny had at­tempt­ed pair­ing its stem cell tech­nol­o­gy with a dif­fer­ent mem­brane be­fore, but ran in­to trou­ble when pa­tients de­vel­oped those for­eign body re­spons­es. That led them to col­lab­o­rate with Gore, which first signed on to an agree­ment in 2017 and then chipped in with $10 mil­lion as part of a larg­er Vi­a­Cyte fund­ing round in No­vem­ber 2018.

Phase I/II clin­i­cal tri­als of PEC-En­cap with the new mem­brane are un­der­way af­ter some de­lays re­lat­ed to Covid-19. Ear­ly in­di­ca­tions are promis­ing, Laikind said, but the com­pa­nies still need to go down the path of com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“The im­mune re­sponse is pret­ty con­sis­tent among pa­tients, cer­tain­ly some will re­act more ag­gres­sive­ly than oth­ers,” Laikind said. “But the de­sign of the de­vice is meant to pro­tect the cells from the im­mune re­sponse of any pa­tient … We re­al­ly be­lieve we’re down to the fi­nal step to­ward a com­mer­cial prod­uct in prov­ing the ef­fec­tive de­liv­ery of graft­ing.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data are messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data are exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

No­vo CEO Lars Fruer­gaard Jør­gensen on R&D risk, the deal strat­e­gy and tar­gets for gen­der di­ver­si­ty


I kicked off our European R&D summit last week with a conversation involving Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. Novo is aiming to launch a new era of obesity management with a new approval for semaglutide. And Jørgensen had a lot to say about what comes next in R&D, how they manage risk and gender diversity targets at the trendsetting European pharma giant.

John Carroll: I’m here with Lars Jørgensen, the CEO of Novo Nordisk. Lars, it’s been a really interesting year so far with Novo Nordisk, right? You’ve projected a new era of growing sales. You’ve been able to expand on the GLP-1 franchise that was already well established in diabetes now going into obesity. And I think a tremendous number of people are really interested in how that’s working out. You have forecast a growing amount of sales. We don’t know specifically how that might play out. I know a lot of the analysts have different ideas, how those numbers might play out, but that we are in fact embarking on a new era for Novo Nordisk in terms of what the company’s capable of doing and what it’s able to do and what it wants to do. And I wanted to start off by asking you about obesity in particular. Semaglutide has been approved in the United States for obesity. It’s an area of R&D that’s been very troubled for decades. There have been weight loss drugs that have come along. They’ve attracted a lot of attention, but they haven’t actually ever gained traction in the market. My first question is what’s different this time about obesity? What is different about this drug and why do you expect it to work now whereas previous drugs haven’t?

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Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

Hedge fund jumps in with Avoro ac­tivists in an at­tempt to de­rail Mer­ck­'s $11B Ac­celeron buy­out

Avoro Capital, which made its bones blowing up the Seagen-Immunomedics deal and then selling the smaller biotech for $21 billion, is getting an assist in its quest to derail Merck’s $11 billion buyout of Acceleron $XLRN.

Wednesday morning one of Acceleron’s biggest investors joined the opposition. Darwin Global Management, a hedge fund which owns about 4% of Acceleron, blasted the Merck deal, saying the Big Pharma is getting the company for billions less than what it’s worth. Earlier, Holocene Advisers, reportedly a top-20 investor in Acceleron, said it would not tender its stock after criticizing the $180-per-share deal.

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