Sunao Man­abe takes top job at Dai­ichi Sankyo in wake of As­traZeneca deal; CAR-T play­er Celyad pro­motes Fil­ip­po Pet­ti to CEO

Sunao Man­abe

→ Bare­ly a day af­ter Dai­ichi Sankyo wrapped a mam­moth col­lab­o­ra­tion deal with As­traZeneca, the Japan­ese phar­ma an­nounced a suc­ces­sion plan for its CEO. George Nakaya­ma, who’s keep­ing his chair­man seat, is pass­ing the reins to Sunao Man­abe, cur­rent­ly pres­i­dent and COO. This marks one of the fi­nal tran­si­tions as Nakaya­ma winds down his decades-long ca­reer run with the com­pa­ny, start­ing at Dai­ichi sub­sidiary Sun­to­ry in 1979. He del­e­gat­ed the pres­i­dent role two years ago.

Celyad, the Bel­gian biotech now mak­ing a low-pro­file run for off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess along­side more promi­nent peers like Cel­lec­tis, Servi­er and Al­lo­gene, has pro­mot­ed CFO Fil­ip­po Pet­ti to CEO. He re­places Chris­t­ian Hom­sy, who’s step­ping aside to a non-ex­ec­u­tive, sup­port­ing role af­ter lead­ing the com­pa­ny through a tran­si­tion from stem cell ther­a­py for the heart to im­muno-on­col­o­gy dur­ing his 12-year tenure.

→ Palm Beach Gar­dens, Flori­da-based Xcov­ery has tapped two Big Phar­ma vets for top posts at its on­col­o­gy op­er­a­tion. Li Mao, a long time aca­d­e­m­ic, is tak­ing the helm af­ter a stint as head of the John­son & John­son Chi­na Lung Can­cer Cen­ter. Gio­van­ni Sel­vag­gi, who’s served roles at Glax­o­SmithK­line, No­var­tis and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb in the past nine years, joins as CMO. To­geth­er, they will steer de­vel­op­ment of en­sar­tinib and vorolanib, Phase III and Phase I/II drugs for ALK-pos­i­tive non-small cell lung can­cer and tho­racic can­cer, re­spec­tive­ly — both in­di­ca­tions that Sel­vag­gi be­came fa­mil­iar with over the course of both his med­ical and in­dus­try ca­reers.

Willem Scheele

→ As Imara gets up to full speed with its mid-stage pro­gram for sick­le cell dis­ease, the biotech has wooed Pfiz­er’s rare dis­ease head to be its per­ma­nent CMO. Hav­ing scored a $63 mil­lion round co-led by Ar­ix and Or­biMed just days ago, the Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech is an­tic­i­pat­ing some da­ta on its ex­per­i­men­tal med IMR-687, a phos­pho­di­esterase-9 in­hibitor, by June. Scheele re­places Shi Yin Foo, an ex­ec of the or­phan drug ac­cel­er­a­tor Cy­dan who was help­ing out on an in­ter­im ba­sis.

Rekha Hem­ra­jani is join­ing Ar­cus Bio­sciences $RCUS as chief op­er­at­ing and fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, a role that com­bines her ex­pe­ri­ence at FLX Bio and 3-V Bio­sciences. The biotech, led by Ter­ry Rosen’s crew at Flexus, is busy eval­u­at­ing sev­er­al Phase I read­outs for its slate of can­cer drugs: AB928, a dual A2a/A2b re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist; AB154, an an­ti-TIG­IT an­ti­body, and AB680, a small-mol­e­cule CD73 in­hibitor.

Shree­r­am Arad­hye has fol­lowed his old col­league Bill Hin­shaw out No­var­tis’ doors and in­to Ax­cel­la’s C-suite. As EVP and chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, Arad­hye will steer the Flag­ship-found­ed biotech’s non-IND clin­i­cal stud­ies fo­cused on re­pro­gram­ming me­tab­o­lism with en­doge­nous meta­bol­ic mod­u­la­tors. Karen Lewis, Bio­gen’s for­mer head of hu­man re­sources, has al­so come on board in a sim­i­lar role.

→ Af­ter work­ing with Abing­worth on a num­ber of co-in­vest­ments (in­clud­ing Wil­son Ther­a­peu­tics and Val­ne­va) as a se­nior part­ner at MVM Part­ners, Bali Mu­ralid­har is join­ing Tim Haines’ promi­nent biotech fund. He will be­come part of a glob­al team spread be­tween Lon­don, Boston and Men­lo Park that iden­ti­fies new in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and sup­ports star­tups in the ex­ist­ing port­fo­lio.

Turn­ing Point Ther­a­peu­tics has hired ex­pe­ri­enced health­care com­mu­ni­ca­tor Jim Maz­zo­la to lead cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­vestor re­la­tions as it preps its lead ki­nase in­hibitor for a Phase II tri­al in the sec­ond half of the year.

→ In Abzena’s lat­est ef­fort to beef up its man­age­ment team, the bi­o­log­ics con­tract re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion is ap­point­ing Camp­bell Bunce and Bo Adair to the new po­si­tions of CSO and SVP process and op­er­a­tions. Bunce will keep his oth­er role as the head of Abzena’s Cam­bridge, UK, which he’s filled since 2015. Adair, on the oth­er hand, comes from a reg­u­lar con­sult­ing gig fol­low­ing a re­cent job at Ap­tu­it.

Wind­MIL Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped San­jin Zvonić, a sea­soned ex­ec who most re­cent­ly led Prog­en­i­tor Cell Ther­a­py’s in­te­gra­tion in­to Hi­tachi, to lead its process­es and man­u­fac­tur­ing.   

“At Wind­MIL, we’re al­ways look­ing to the fu­ture of can­cer im­munother­a­py, so San­jin’s abil­i­ty to bridge re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing makes him an ide­al fit for us as we de­liv­er both the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of MILs and look to­ward de­vel­op­ing the next gen­er­a­tion,” in­ter­im CEO Don Hay­den said, re­fer­ring to the Bal­ti­more biotech’s mar­row-in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cytes tech­nol­o­gy.

→ On the heels of a sec­ond glau­co­ma drug ap­proval, Aerie Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $AERI has  re­cruit­ed An­gela Jus­tice (for­mer­ly of Sun Phar­ma) as west­ern re­gion­al di­rec­tor, med­ical sci­ence li­ai­son, and Bri­an Saku­ra­da (for­mer­ly of Intar­cia Ther­a­peu­tics) as di­rec­tor of sci­en­tif­ic mar­ket ac­cess. Con­cur­rent­ly, No­var­tis alum David El­lis is join­ing as di­rec­tor of chem­istry while  Karis­ma Shar­ma has been named VP, hu­man re­sources.

→ Af­ter try­ing out re­search and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment at Roche and No­var­tis, Shao­lian Zhou has re­turned to the CRO world. He is now the SVP and lab di­rec­tor for bio­an­a­lyt­i­cal ser­vices at World­wide Clin­i­cal Tri­als, re­spon­si­ble for the over­all op­er­a­tions of the lab fa­cil­i­ty in Austin.

→ As In­tra-Cel­lu­lar Ther­a­pies plots a turn­around and quick launch for its schiz­o­phre­nia drug lu­mate­per­one, it has ap­point­ed Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb vet John Bar­di to spear­head mar­ket ac­cess, pol­i­cy and gov­ern­ment af­fairs. Bar­di jumps to the New York-based biotech $IT­CI from Ot­su­ka, where he played a sim­i­lar role in bring­ing the an­tipsy­chot­ic Abil­i­fy to mar­ket.

UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

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2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA has de­val­ued the gold stan­dard on R&D. And that threat­ens every­one in drug de­vel­op­ment

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Hahn was being lightly queried by Senators in his confirmation hearing as the new commissioner of the FDA, he made the usual vow to maintain the gold standard in drug development.

Neatly summarized, that standard requires the agency to sign off on clinical data — usually from two, well-controlled human studies — that prove a drug’s benefit outweighs any risks.

Over the last few years, biopharma has enjoyed an unprecedented loosening over just what it takes to clear that bar. Regulators are more willing to drop the second trial requirement ahead of an accelerated approval — particularly if they have an unmet medical need where patients are clamoring for a therapy.

That confirmatory trial the FDA demands can wait a few years. And most everyone in biopharma would tell you that’s the right thing for patients. They know its a tonic for everyone in the industry faced with pushing a drug through clinical development. And it’s helped inspire a global biotech boom.

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Daphne Zohar (PureTech)

PureTech bags $200M from sale of Karuna shares — still siz­zling from promis­ing schiz­o­phre­nia da­ta

Cashing in on the exuberance around Karuna Therapeutics and its potential blockbuster CNS drug, PureTech has sold a chunk of the biotech’s shares to Goldman Sachs for $200 million.

Boston-based PureTech had helped Eli Lilly vet Steve Paul launch Karuna and invent its lead program, which combines two old drugs that both act on the muscarinic receptor and balances each other out. Xanomeline, a discard from Lilly, stimulates the M1 and M4 receptors; trospium is an muscarinic receptor antagonist approved to treat overactive bladders.

UP­DAT­ED: New play­ers are jump­ing in­to the scram­ble to de­vel­op a vac­cine as pan­dem­ic pan­ic spreads fast

When the CNN news crew in Wuhan caught wind of the Chinese government’s plan to quarantine the city of 11 million people, they made a run for one of the last trains out — their Atlanta colleagues urging them on. On the way to the train station, they were forced to skirt the local seafood market, where the coronavirus at the heart of a brewing outbreak may have taken root.

And they breathlessly reported every moment of the early morning dash.

In shuttering the city, triggering an exodus of masked residents who caught wind of the quarantine ahead of time, China signaled that they were prepared to take extreme actions to stop the spread of a virus that has claimed 17 lives, sickened many more and panicked people around the globe.

CNN helped illustrate how hard all that can be.

The early reaction in the biotech industry has been classic, with small-cap companies scrambling to headline efforts to step in fast. But there are also new players in the field with new tech that has been introduced since the last of a series of pandemic panics that could change the usual storylines. And they’re volunteering for a crash course in speeding up vaccine development — a field where overnight solutions have been impossible to prove.

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Roche cracks Chi­na's ADC mar­ket open as Kad­cy­la scores its first breast can­cer OK in the coun­try

Roche’s Kadcyla has become the first antibody-drug conjugate to enter the Chinese market, marking a dramatic advance for both the Swiss pharma giant and the therapeutic class.

The local arm of Roche announced the approval late Tuesday, which covers the therapy’s use in the adjuvant setting in patients with early HER-2 positive breast cancer who still have residual invasive disease after receiving paclitaxel and Herceptin as neoadjuvant treatment.

Pascal Soriot, Getty

Pas­cal So­ri­ot and As­traZeneca com­mit to car­bon neu­tral­i­ty by 2025. Where's the rest of Phar­ma?

Pascal Soriot has spent more than 20 years at the top of an industry recently found to emit more carbon than the automotive industry.

He called himself a “global citizen,” and traveled often across three-plus continents. While CEO of AstraZeneca, he commissioned a flight service — media-dubbed AstraZeneca airlines — from Cambridge to the company’s other European hub in Gothenburg. He made few, if any, public statements on the environment or his companies’ impact on it.

Wuhan virus out­break trig­gers in­evitable small-biotech ral­ly

Every few years, a public health crisis (think Ebola, Zika) spurred by a rogue pathogen triggers a small-biotech rally, as drugmakers emerge from the woodwork with ambitious plans to treat the mounting outbreak. In most cases, that enthusiasm never quite delivers.

Things are no different, as the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China takes hold. There have been close to 300 confirmed human infections in China, and at least four deaths. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which include MERS and SARS. On Tuesday, the CDC reported the virus was detected in a US traveler returning from Wuhan.