Take­da dou­bles down on Finch's mi­cro­bio­me in­sights, sign­ing up for a sec­ond project in Crohn's dis­ease

Take­da first shone a spot­light on Finch Ther­a­peu­tics’ hu­man-first dis­cov­ery plat­form in 2017, when the Japan­ese phar­ma paid $10 mil­lion to part­ner a pre­clin­i­cal ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis pro­gram in­spired by fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion. While the mi­cro­bio­me ther­a­py, FIN-524, is still mak­ing its way to the clin­ic, Take­da has seen enough to com­mit to a sec­ond pro­gram tack­ling an­oth­er type of in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease.

Mark Smith

The duo will now rev up Finch’s plat­form tech again in search of a treat­ment for Crohn’s dis­ease, which Take­da will have ex­clu­sive rights to com­mer­cial­ize. Fi­nan­cial terms were not dis­closed.

De­ploy­ing ma­chine learn­ing to crawl through da­ta from in­ter­ven­tion­al mi­cro­bio­ta trans­plan­ta­tion stud­ies, Finch CEO Mark Smith aims to iden­ti­fy mean­ing­ful mi­cro­bial sig­na­tures por­tend­ing dis­ease. The re­sult is what he calls ra­tio­nal­ly-se­lect­ed mi­cro­bio­ta ther­a­pies, which con­tain cul­tured bac­te­r­i­al strains linked to pos­i­tive clin­i­cal out­comes.

That ap­proach could prove su­pe­ri­or to an­i­mal mod­els, Finch the­o­rizes. FIN-524 was their first at­tempt to val­i­date the the­o­ry — as the two oth­er can­di­dates in their pipeline, for re­cur­rent C. diff and autism, came from its oth­er dis­cov­ery plat­form. Known as full-spec­trum mi­cro­bio­ta, it rep­re­sents the foun­da­tion­al “drugs from bugs” idea of putting good bac­te­ria in a pill.

Gareth Hicks

“We’ve seen the promise of Finch’s Hu­man-First Dis­cov­ery plat­form for the de­vel­op­ment of a com­plete­ly new type of treat­ment for in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease,” said Gareth Hicks, head of gas­troen­terol­o­gy drug dis­cov­ery unit at Take­da, in a state­ment.

Hicks is in charge of one of four core ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas that Take­da is ze­ro­ing in on in the wake of the Shire ac­qui­si­tion (the oth­er three be­ing on­col­o­gy, neu­ro­science and rare dis­eases). Right now, one of the stars in the port­fo­lio is En­tyvio, an IBD drug that blocks the bind­ing of α₄β₇ in­te­grin to in­testi­nal mu­cos­al ad­dressin cell ad­he­sion mol­e­cule 1 (MAd­CAM-1), there­by ame­lio­rat­ing the in­flam­ma­to­ry ef­fect of white blood cells on gut tis­sues.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion with Finch isn’t their on­ly push in­to the nascent but fe­cund field of mi­cro­bio­me-based ther­a­peu­tics. Last Oc­to­ber Take­da put down $50 mil­lion to team up with France’s En­terome on EB8018, a small mol­e­cule de­signed to se­lec­tive­ly dis­arm vir­u­lent bac­te­ria in the gut caus­ing in­flam­ma­tion, with­out dis­rupt­ing the lo­cal mi­cro­bio­me.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Ramy Farid, Schrödinger CEO (Schrödinger)

Bris­tol My­ers fronts new Schrödinger al­liance with $55M up­front, ex­pand­ing pre­ci­sion on­col­o­gy pro­file

Bristol Myers Squibb has a new R&D partner, one to which they’re paying a pretty penny to use their discovery platform.

The pharma company is doling out $55 million upfront to Schrödinger $SDGR to work on up to five small molecules, with the potential for $2.7 billion in milestone payments. Schrödinger’s initial targets include HIF-2 alpha and SOS1/KRAS for a type of kidney cancer and KRAS-driven cancers, respectively.

Am­gen sev­ers 14-year Cy­to­ki­net­ics part­ner­ship, bail­ing on ome­cam­tiv af­ter mixed PhI­II re­sults

Amgen is shrugging off a 14-year development alliance and the tens of millions of dollars spent to develop a new heart drug at Cytokinetics after a Phase III trial turned up weak data — leaving Cytokinetics to soldier on alone.

Omecamtiv mecarbil technically worked, meeting the primary composite endpoint in the Phase III GALACTIC-HF study. But it missed a key secondary endpoint, which analysts had been following as a key marker for success — reduction of cardiovascular (CV) death. While Cytokinetics celebrated the results, its stock tanked 43% upon the news, and analysts warned of an uncertain path ahead. Now, Amgen wants out.

News brief­ing: Ab­b­Vie part­ner Teneo­bio ex­pands tech li­cense with CAR-T play­er Po­sei­da; Ar­genx buys PRV from Bay­er for $98M

Teneobio may be best known for its pact with AbbVie and Gilead, but before its big break the bispecific player had licensed its antibodies for a different use: as binders in CAR-T therapies being developed by Poseida.

Now, the biotechs are expanding their partnership, with Poseida exercising four options to deploy Teneobio’s heavy chain only domain antibodies commercially.

The commercial licensing fees remained under wraps, but Teneobio is eligible for $250 million in milestones for these CAR-Ts against undisclosed targets.

Peter Thiel (Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

Tech bil­lion­aire Pe­ter Thiel backs a lead­ing psy­che­del­ic drug de­vel­op­er

Right on the heels of investing in antibody drug developer AbCellera, Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel has jumped into a syndicate putting up $125 million for a company with a portfolio of psychedelic drugs in the clinic for mental health.

The C round — which includes a $32 million conversion of notes to equity — will fuel the development programs at ATAI Life Sciences, a Berlin-based biotech that has assembled a portfolio of companies with psychedelic and non-psychedilc approaches to depression, anxiety and addiction.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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