The End­points 11: A group of dis­rup­tive up­starts on a do-or-die mis­sion to launch new meds

Over the last 15 years I’ve had the chance to help select about 200 private biotechs for up-and-coming awards like this. Looking over the rank and file of this disruptive crowd, I had my standouts, my OK borderline selections, and some truly dreadful, cringe-worthy choices.

Such is the game of judging private biotechs, where you always wind up making hunches based on an incomplete picture. But then that’s also much of the fun, right?

Everyone who does this sort of thing likes to pretend that they can pick which of these fledglings can shoot the rapids of drug development and come out of the white water doing high fives. But the reality is that we all have our good and bad ideas.

And you learn along the way.

With my first selection of the Endpoints 11 (complete with a neat logo conceptualized by our creative assistant editor Amber Tong), I’m getting started on generation 2.0 of my idea of top companies that just may be headed for greatness.

There are several key attributes that characterize each of the E11, and help me hedge my bets. Each represents an important trend in biotech creation.

Most have top teams that are well recognized for earlier successes. Experienced biotech execs these days can generally have their pick of the litter when it comes to new companies angling for a launch. So when you see a prominent biotech exec make the transition out of incubation and onto the stage — often alongside close associates that they have known and worked with for years — it may not guarantee a winner, but it sure is comforting when smart, successful people love the science behind a startup.

That will serve as my segue into technology. Me-too drugs have been discredited for years now. Payers may use them to pick the lock on lower prices, but it’s a woeful development strategy. Every company in this year’s maiden E11 is swinging for the fences, looking to drug the undruggable or race with ambitious rivals to achieve something remarkable.

So scientific ambition is key.

Enough money to get through to the next stage of human data is critical.

There is a healthy debate going on right now whether the 4-year tidal wave of investor cash coursing through the industry is essentially causing risky behavior that will squander cash. Given the inherent risks associated with drug development, and the groundbreaking nature of what they’re trying to achieve, a good chunk of that investment money is going up in flames — under the best of circumstances.

If anyone in the E11 fail, it likely won’t be because they were starved for cash. And this business isn’t cheap. Also, if any of these companies below go belly up, you will hear the explosion from halfway around the world.

The right partner can be everything in this business, helping make all the difference in picking up speed in the clinic and providing the kind of commercial clout needed to move markets. That’s another big factor in the list.

If there’s one overarching theme I’d like to highlight most, it’s that drug development is a global pursuit. The US may be where the money is in terms of windfall profits, and it may still drive the lion’s share of the development work as the industry feels the full flush of cash coursing through labs, but the science is international. So is much of the clinical work. These companies span three continents, from North America to Europe and Asia.

And Asia is coming on strong, with major implications for the industry as a whole.

Finally, just because this is the first E11 doesn’t mean I’m starting over. If you’ve already been highlighted in another annual award I once managed, your chances of a repeat here were reduced to nil. We need to share the spotlight.

I’ll be back in the fall with my picks of 2018. And if you have any recommendations along the way, send them my way as I manage the next short list. — John Carroll 

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Once fu­ri­ous over No­var­tis’ da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, the FDA now says it’s noth­ing they need to take ac­tion on

Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Covid-19 roundup: GSK, Am­gen tai­lor R&D work to fit the coro­n­avirus age; Doud­na's ge­nomics crew launch­es di­ag­nos­tic lab

You can add Amgen and GSK to the list of deep-pocket drug R&D players who are tailoring their pipeline work to fit a new age of coronavirus.

Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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In a stun­ning set­back, Amarin los­es big patent fight over Vas­cepa IP. And its high-fly­ing stock crash­es to earth

Amarin’s shares $AMRN were blitzed Monday evening, losing billions in value as reports spread that the company had lost its high-profile effort to keep its Vascepa patents protected from generic drugmakers.

Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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It is 'kind of a proven tech­nol­o­gy': Hep B vac­cine mak­er joins glob­al hunt for coro­n­avirus vac­cine

Using lab-grown proteins that are engineered to mimic the architecture of viruses to induce an immune response, VBI Vaccines is joining the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine — harnessing technology that has initially been proved safe in early trials as a prophylactic for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.

Unlike the raft of the companies in the Covid-19 vaccine race — including Moderna, CureVac and J&J — VBI is taking a pan-coronavirus approach, by developing a vaccine that will encompass Covid-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Covid-19 roundup: J&J, BAR­DA set ear­ly 2021 fin­ish line for $1B vac­cine race; FDA al­lows emer­gency drug use, ahead of piv­otal da­ta

J&J has zeroed in on a Covid-19 vaccine candidate that it hopes to begin testing in humans by September this year — with the extraordinary goal of getting it ready for emergency use in early 2021. And together with BARDA, it’s committing $1 billion to make it happen.

That kind of accelerated timeline would fall on the fast side of NIAID director Anthony Fauci’s well-publicized prediction that it would be another 12 to 18 months before a vaccine can be available for public use. A Phase I trial of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine began two weeks ago, and both the biotech and fellow mRNA player CureVac have discussed similar, if not even faster, timelines for emergency use among healthcare workers.

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As­traZeneca says its block­buster Farx­i­ga proved to be a game-chang­er in CKD — wrap­ping PhI­II ear­ly

If the FDA can still hold up its end of the bargain, AstraZeneca is already on a short path to scooping up a cutting-edge win with a likely approval for their SGLT2 drug Farxiga in cutting the risk of heart failure. Now the pharma giant says it can point to solid evidence that the drug — initially restricted to diabetes — also works for chronic kidney disease, potentially adding a blockbuster indication for the franchise.

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Can a pair of top AveX­is alum­ni steer a new gene ther­a­py up­start to R&D glo­ry? 3 VCs bet $60M on it

VCs love few things more than a proven executive team when it comes to launching a new company. And now a group of A-listers has turned to a pair of top execs out of AveXis to steer the latest gene therapy player into the clinic.

The biotech is Waltham, MA-based Affinia and the two execs are Sean Nolan and Rick Modi — the former CEO and CBO respectively of AveXis, the gene therapy pioneer that fetched $8.7 billion in a sale to Novartis. Nolan has now taken the chairman’s role at Affinia while Modi moves up to the CEO post at the company.

Un­de­terred by a pan­dem­ic, Gilde Health­care rais­es their largest fund yet

When Pieter van der Meer started raising the capital for Gilde Healthcare’s fifth fund in the waning months of 2019, he had his eyes on a different chain of events that could change the healthcare system and perhaps even play to his firm’s advantage: The US presidential election.

Since raising their third fund in 2011, the 34-year-old Dutch firm had focused on value-based care. They chose late-stage biotechs that came up with new devices and delivery systems for de-risked established compounds, and when they chose preclinical biotechs, they spoke with potential pharma partners, payers and regulators to ask where and at what prices the drug made sense. As the Democratic primary became a contest over how to lower healthcare costs, it looked like a strategy that could pay off.

Daniel O'Day (AP Images)

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

In addition to trying to reassure patients that they will once again have an avenue to pursue access, O’Day also reassured some analysts who had been fretting that China’s quick comeback from the coronavirus outbreak could derail its ultra-fast schedule for testing the drug in patients. The data are still expected in a few weeks, he says in the letter, putting the readout in April.

O’Day emphasizes that Gilead intends to pursue a pricing approach that will make this drug widely available — if it proves effective and safe. But no one is quite sure just what the longterm value would be, given the work being done on a variety of vaccines that may be rolled out as early as this fall — at least to the most heavily threatened groups.

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