Stung by pa­tient deaths, a small Juno study points to a Goldilocks for­mu­la for CAR-T

For Juno, the hunt to find just the right mix­ture of T cells along with an ef­fec­tive reg­i­men to prep pa­tients for their CAR-T ther­a­py has had a lethal his­to­ry, tan­gling up de­vel­op­ment time­lines in a way that has ced­ed the lead in the field to ri­val Kite.

Stan­ley Rid­dell

But in a new, small study in­volv­ing one of their most ad­vanced CAR-Ts, an in­ves­tiga­tive team feels that they came up with just the right recipe. And that could have big im­pli­ca­tions for an­oth­er CAR-T pro­gram in which Juno holds high hopes for a come­back.

The drug in­volved in the study is called JCAR014, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors say that they came up with a one-on-one mix of CD4+ helper cells with CD8+ killer cells that showed a re­mark­able abil­i­ty to wipe out can­cer cells that ex­press CD19, which has been the big ini­tial tar­get for all the play­ers in the van­guard of CAR-T work.

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so con­clud­ed that adding flu­dara­bine to cy­clophos­phamide (Cy/Flu) in a cock­tail to prep pa­tients cre­ates the right en­vi­ron­ment for the T cells to grow in the body. Half of the 18 pa­tients with non-Hodgkin lym­phoma who got the Cy/Flu com­bo had a com­plete re­sponse to the ther­a­py, com­pared to on­ly 8% of the group who re­ceived on­ly cy­clophos­phamide.

The team point­ed out that these re­sults could in­di­cate sim­i­lar out­comes for JCAR017, which is now in ear­ly stud­ies. Juno has tapped JCAR017 as a po­ten­tial “best-in-class” treat­ment for blood can­cers.

The mes­sage helped buoy the com­pa­ny’s stock to­day, send­ing shares up about 3%.

“With the de­fined com­po­si­tion treat­ment, we are able to get more re­pro­ducible da­ta about the ef­fects of the cells — both the ben­e­fi­cial im­pact against the can­cer and any side ef­fects to the pa­tient,” said Fred Hutch clin­i­cal re­searcher Stan Rid­dell, one of the se­nior au­thors of the pa­per, along with Dr. David Mal­oney. “We are then able to ad­just the dose to im­prove what we call the ther­a­peu­tic in­dex — im­pact against the tu­mor, with low­er tox­i­c­i­ty to the pa­tient.”

The ad­di­tion of flu­dara­bine to Juno’s lead CAR-T, JCAR015, was fin­gered for killing four pa­tients, a set­back for the biotech which trig­gered a brief but dam­ag­ing clin­i­cal hold by the FDA. The hold last­ed on­ly days, end­ing with the FDA sign­ing off on the biotech’s de­ci­sion to drop flu­dara­bine. But the hold end­ed up forc­ing Juno to de­lay its ex­pect­ed move to file for their first ap­proval back to 2018. Kite, mean­while, which is us­ing its own mix of T cells and Cy/Flu, has said it ex­pects to take the first batch of da­ta from its lead­ing study to the FDA af­ter an ini­tial re­view that comes in just a mat­ter of weeks.

This new study from Juno al­so rais­es ques­tions about its lead drug, JCAR015. If pa­tient out­comes are sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­ered by the ab­sence of flu­dara­bine, Juno’s first at­tempt at a com­mer­cial en­try against the com­pe­ti­tion could be se­vere­ly af­fect­ed.

CAR-Ts be­came a hot field a cou­ple of years ago, at­tract­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions in new in­vest­ments as the front run­ners raced to ad­vance new reme­dies for can­cer by adding a chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tor to a pa­tient’s T cells and then in­fus­ing them back in­to the pa­tient. But with Juno’s de­rail­ment and a re­cent de­ci­sion by No­var­tis to dis­solve its cell and gene ther­a­py unit and re­ab­sorb it in­to their big on­col­o­gy di­vi­sion, all eyes are on Kite now to see if it can claim the first ap­proval and mar­ket en­try.

The stakes are high.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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CEO Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Geoffrey Porges, SVB Leerink

Top an­a­lyst maps a rocky road for Ver­tex — un­less they adopt a $10B M&A cam­paign to save the pipeline

After repeatedly poking Vertex $VRTX execs with pointed criticism of their R&D strategy, top SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges is now turning up the heat to a full-scale roasting.

In a note out early Monday morning, Porges spotlights the impact of Vertex’s recent follow-up failure on AATD — their treatment hit the endpoint but missed on commercial prospects — rewriting his recommended scenario for CEO Reshma Kewalramani as she grapples with the setback.

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Lynn Fitch, Mississippi Attorney General (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

Mis­sis­sip­pi sues Eli Lil­ly, Sanofi and No­vo over in­sulin prices as in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars may ar­rive soon

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch last week sued the top three insulin manufacturers, which collectively cover almost the entire US insulin market, alleging that they’ve colluded to raise their prices in lockstep, and in some cases by more than 1,000% for drugs that are decades old.

“Because of Manufacturer Defendants’ collusive price increases, nearly a century after the discovery of insulin, diabetes medications have become unaffordable for many diabetics,” the lawsuit says.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia spends Soft­Bank's cash in bid to edge out AI ri­vals

Exscientia is sprinting to win the great AI biotech race.

The UK company, having long labored on small discovery deals with large pharmas, raised up to $525 million in a Series D led by the infamous Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in April and followed it up less than a month later with a Bristol Myers Squibb deal that paid $50 million cash and $1.2 billion in milestones.

Now, the Oxford spinout is splurging on a shiny new tool. On Monday they announced they purchased the three-year-old molecule-screening biotech Allcyte, a longtime collaborator, for $60.6 million in cash and stock.

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As­traZeneca's Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail miss­es the mark in pre­vent­ing symp­toms post-ex­po­sure

As the field for monoclonal antibody treatments of Covid-19 grows more crowded, AstraZeneca has announced a study of its own cocktail AZD7442 did not meet its main goal of preventing symptomatic Covid-19.

The company’s long-acting antibody combo was used in a trial with unvaccinated adults about the age of 18 with confirmed exposure. AZD7442 reduced the risk by just 33%, a figure that was not statistically significant.