The 20(+1) un­der 40: In­side the next gen­er­a­tion of biotech lead­ers

How does one decide who makes an “under 40” list? After the last nominations come in from staff and readers, we’re left to sort through hundreds of names, with no obvious guideposts for how to do so. Do we want the basic scientist behind a major discovery, or the executive working to translate it into medicines? The venture capitalist spinning out a half-dozen companies or the founder with one big idea? Leaders who have already brought drugs into the clinic or leaders who seem on the cusp of it?

Ultimately, we’re left with no hard-and-fast rules except that they have to be under 40 — and at least a few would-be names turned out to be just over — and that their stories are crucial to understanding the industry today. Perhaps their work, if it succeeds, would change medicine. Or perhaps they’re beginning to push the industry, which can sometimes cater to the grey-haired and pedigreed, into new areas, bringing new technologies to untested scientific terrain and proposing new ways to think about old problems.

This year, Endpoints News has brought you leaders and thinkers with ambitious ideas from around the world and across a motley of cutting edge fields, people who could one day become household names: the CEO trying to resurrect psychedelics for depression and PTSD; the academic-turned-founder chasing the most notorious disease in drug development; the professor’s son attempting to build a Covid-19 vaccine for the world.

In some cases, we decided that honoring just one person wasn’t enough. Science is an inextricably collaborative effort and as we reported, we realized that some people’s stories couldn’t be told without the story of the other young scientist working beside them. So for the first time, we’ve included two dual profiles and, as a result, a 20-under-40 list that contains 21 people.

It’s a bit odd, we’ll admit, but they’re two of the best stories in the project — stories of what two quick, hungry minds can do when brought together at the right moment. You won’t want to miss them or any of the others. And unlike the last two years, we’ve included video snippets from each of the interviews, to really give a sense of who they are.

Jason Mast

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Voting in the 2020 election (AP Images)

The right to vote is fun­da­men­tal — a let­ter from biotech­nol­o­gy in­dus­try lead­ers

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We oppose all attempts to introduce laws that reduce the rights of US citizens to vote or that restrict them from exercising that right. The right to vote is fundamental to democracy. States that have enacted, or are proposing to enact, legislation to restrict voting are undermining our democracy and posing a threat to our nation. As leaders of the life sciences industry, we stand for what we believe is right for our country, our enterprises, our employees and those who benefit from our work. We join the first groups of business leaders who have challenged these laws and will continue to make our collective voices heard on this matter.

Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 106,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sajith Wickramasekara, Benchling via YouTube

Meet Bench­ling, the lat­est uni­corn seek­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the way sci­en­tists do work with the help of the cloud

There’s another unicorn in biotech land, as Benchling and its leading R&D cloud platform pull in a $200 million Series E to help scientists accelerate drug development. In doing so, the company hit a lofty $4 billion valuation — nearly five times what it was worth around this time last year, according to Forbes.

Despite the fact that drug development is becoming significantly more complex, the industry continues to run on paper, emails and spreadsheets, co-founder and CEO Sajith Wickramasekara said in a video on Benchling’s website. The MIT grad sought to change that by creating software that allows scientists to better track, model and forecast their work.

Covid-19 roundup: No­vavax shakes up lead­er­ship with two pro­mo­tions and de­par­ture of CFO; Mod­er­na, No­vavax shots added to mix-and-match study in the UK

Novavax has had a busy month, filled with supply chain issues and manufacturing deals that have affected the rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine. Tuesday, the company announced updates to its leadership team.

CFO Greg Covino will step down from that role after just five months for personal reasons, the release said, but take on a new role as executive advisor. John Trizzino, current chief commercial officer and chief business officer, will take the CFO role over in the interim.

Amy­lyx to move for­ward with ALS pro­gram in Eu­rope, but FDA wants an­oth­er look; Hu­ma­cyte adds $50M in debt fi­nanc­ing

Amylyx is one of several companies looking to break through in the tough ALS field, and Wednesday they announced they’re moving forward with regulatory plans.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech said they’re submitting a marketing application to the EMA for their AMX0035 program by the end of 2021. Wednesday’s news comes a few weeks after they revealed similar plans to move forward with Canadian health regulators by June 30.

UP­DAT­ED: J&J paus­es vac­cine roll­out as feds probe rare cas­es of blood clots

The FDA and CDC have jointly decided to stop administering J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine after reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.

CDC will convene a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. “FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, said in a joint statement Tuesday morning.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, new CDER director

Pa­trizia Cavaz­zoni named per­ma­nent di­rec­tor of CDER, adding to ques­tions around where Wood­cock will end up

Patrizia Cavazzoni on Monday became the permanent director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which puts to rest the idea that Janet Woodcock, Cavazzoni’s predecessor, might return to lead CDER if she isn’t made permanent commissioner.

Woodcock, who’s currently serving as acting commissioner and principal medical advisor to the commissioner, a position she was detailed to last year, may not make the move to permanent commissioner because of lingering questions from Senate Democrats. She previously served as director of CDER since 1994. Cavazzoni took over as acting director of CDER when Woodcock moved over to Operation Warp Speed to run the therapeutics side of the Trump-era program.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.