The mas­ter deal­mak­er is back: David Hung takes the helm at Vivek Ra­maswamy's Ax­o­vant

David Hung earned his spurs as a mas­ter deal­mak­er in biotech, blaz­ing through a string of ma­jor part­ner­ships for good (and bad) drugs be­fore sell­ing Medi­va­tion at auc­tion for a whop­ping $14 bil­lion. Now he’s back, join­ing hands with one of the bright­est fi­nan­cial en­gi­neers in the busi­ness, as CEO of Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Ax­o­vant.

Ra­maswamy turned heads and raised more than a few eye­brows when he snagged a failed Alzheimer’s drug from Glax­o­SmithK­line for $5 mil­lion up­front and then made it the cen­tral fea­ture in a record-set­ting biotech IPO for Ax­o­vant $AX­ON. Since then, Ra­maswamy has been wheel­ing and deal­ing him­self, set­ting up more com­pa­nies as well as an­oth­er IPO for My­ovant.

Vivek Ra­maswamy

Through­out, he has spe­cial­ized in re­cruit­ing some very high-pro­file ex­ecs to run his com­pa­nies. And you don’t get much high­er pro­file than Hung.

Said Ra­maswamy:

We were not search­ing for a new CEO at Ax­o­vant, but fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of Medi­va­tion I ap­proached David about tak­ing a role with us af­ter the MIND­SET study. David de­cid­ed that he want­ed to join us now. I have en­joyed a close pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al re­la­tion­ship with David over the last ten years, and I am tru­ly thrilled that Ax­o­vant is in ca­pa­ble hands as I tran­si­tion full-time to my role as CEO of Roivant.

In­vestors loved it. The news drove up Ax­o­vant’s shares by 29%, adding sev­er­al hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars to its mar­ket cap.

Mar­i­on Mc­Court

Iron­i­cal­ly, the for­mer Medi­va­tion CEO is head­ed back to a field where he ex­pe­ri­enced his biggest, most em­bar­rass­ing set­back. Pfiz­er paid $225 mil­lion up­front to part­ner with Hung on Dime­bon, an an­ti­his­t­a­mine that turned out to be an aw­ful fail­ure in try­ing to blunt the progress of the mem­o­ry-steal­ing dis­ease.

Hung isn’t ar­riv­ing at Ax­o­vant alone; he’s bring­ing a small crew along. Mar­i­on Mc­Court, the for­mer COO at Medi­va­tion, is tak­ing the same job at Ax­o­vant. And two close as­so­ciates of Hung, Kathryn “Kate” E. Fal­berg and William An­tho­ny “Tony” Ver­non, are join­ing an ex­pand­ed board. They al­so were board mem­bers at Medi­va­tion.

Ax­o­vant is look­ing to a set of pos­i­tive da­ta that GSK had gath­ered for its 5HT6 drug for symp­toms of Alzheimer’s. While oth­ers like Pfiz­er and Lund­beck have failed, Ax­o­vant be­lieves that by tak­ing the suc­cess­ful dose back in­to the clin­ic, it can suc­ceed where every oth­er late-stage study over the past 14 years has failed.

That’s a tall or­der, but a num­ber of very se­ri­ous play­ers in the in­dus­try tell me that the com­pa­ny has a de­cent shot at suc­ceed­ing — though its drug will like­ly do lit­tle but de­lay the crush­ing dis­ease by some months. Right now, that looks like ma­jor progress.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Chamath Palihapitiya and Pablo Legorreta

Bil­lion­aires Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya and Pablo Legor­re­ta hatch an $825M SPAC for cell ther­a­py biotech

Three years after Royalty Pharma chief Pablo Legorreta led a group of investors to buy up a pair of biotechs and create a new startup called ProKidney, the biotech is jumping straight into an $825 million public shell created by SPAC king and tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya.

ProKidney was founded 6 years ago but really got going at the beginning of 2019 with the $62 million acquisition of inRegen, which was working on an autologous — from the patient — cell therapy for kidney disease. After extracting kidney cells from patients, researchers expand the cells in the lab and then inject them back into patients, aiming to restore the kidneys of patients suffering from CKD.

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CBO: Medicare ne­go­ti­a­tions will ham­per drug de­vel­op­ment more than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

As President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — and, with it, potentially the Democrats’ last shot at major drug pricing reforms in the foreseeable future — remains on life support, the Congressional Budget Office isn’t helping their case.

The CBO last week released a new slide deck, outlining an update to its model on how Medicare negotiations might take a bite out of new drugs making it to market. The new model estimates a 10% long-term reduction in the number of new drugs, whereas a previous CBO report from August estimated that 8% fewer new drugs will enter the market over 30 years.

Joshua Brumm, Dyne Therapeutics CEO

FDA or­ders DMD tri­al halt, rais­ing ques­tions about a whole class of promis­ing drugs

Dyne Therapeutics’ stock took a nasty hit this morning after the biotech put out word that the FDA had slapped a clinical hold on their top program for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. And now speculation is bouncing around Biotwitter that there could be a class effect at work here that would implicate other drug developers in the freeze.

Dyne execs didn’t have a whole lot to say about why the FDA sidelined their IND for DYNE-251 in DMD while “requesting additional clinical and non-clinical information for” the drug.

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Martin Shkreli (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Mar­tin Shkre­li re­ceives life­time in­dus­try ban, forced to re­turn al­most $65M in prof­its af­ter an­ti­com­pet­i­tive scheme

Martin Shkreli will have to find a new nickname.

A federal judge banned the former biotech CEO and “Pharma Bro” from the drug industry on Friday, ordering him to pay nearly $65 million in illicit profits. Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud in 2017 and is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence, though he originally gained notoriety for raising the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 in 2015.