The PC­SK9 of NASH? Re­gen­eron and Al­ny­lam join forces to tack­le a promis­ing tar­get for se­vere liv­er dis­eases

The Re­gen­eron Ge­net­ics Cen­ter $REGN rou­tine­ly sifts through a moun­tain of se­quenc­ing da­ta. And every now and then, the re­searchers there will pan out a glit­ter­ing find­ing that looks like it could rank right up there with PC­SK9.

Here’s one.

John Maraganore

This evening, in a study pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, they are point­ing to one such dis­cov­ery that they be­lieve has some big im­pli­ca­tions for se­vere liv­er dis­eases, in­clud­ing the Holy Grail of NASH. And with­out a log­i­cal an­ti­body strat­e­gy to put in­to play — giv­en an in­tra­cel­lu­lar tar­get in the spot­light — they’ve en­list­ed an ex­pe­ri­enced crew at Al­ny­lam to bring their RNAi gene si­lenc­ing plat­form in­to the game to find the most ef­fi­cient way to pro­vide the key to coun­ter­ing a raft of ail­ments.

“We ob­vi­ous­ly saw the da­ta and we were blown away,” says Al­ny­lam $AL­NY CEO John Maraganore, who’s now in wait-and-see mode as their lead drug patisir­an rolls up to an Au­gust PDU­FA date. “This tar­get  — HSD17B13 — from a hu­man ge­net­ics per­spec­tive it re­al­ly is the  PC­SK9 of NASH.”

Aris Baras

Re­gen­eron prides it­self on mov­ing ag­gres­sive­ly when they find some­thing promis­ing for clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. And in Al­ny­lam, they feel they are work­ing with close kin in that re­spect.

“These guys at Al­ny­lam have a sim­i­lar ap­proach and track record,” says Aris Baras, head of the RGC. And he feels this tar­get de­serves speed and care, which in­spired a 50/50 deal on re­search costs and any com­mer­cial po­ten­tial that comes out of the pre­clin­i­cal align­ment.

How fast can Al­ny­lam move here? “We’re not giv­ing guid­ance,” says Maraganore, but he says you shouldn’t be sur­prised if there’s a pro­gram in the clin­ic next year. (Yes, that is fast.)

The deal, he adds, calls for shared eco­nom­ics in de­vel­op­ment, with Al­ny­lam do­ing the crit­i­cal ear­ly de­vel­op­ment and Re­gen­eron pick­ing up the late-stage work. That will be their first RNAi study of their own, says Maraganore, but there’s no re­al mys­tery in how that works. And they’ll stay close­ly in­volved through­out.

The study of hu­man ge­net­ics in these cen­ters is be­gin­ning to have a re­al im­pact on R&D ef­fi­cien­cy, says Baras. And this project in par­tic­u­lar, he be­lieves, high­lights the promise of the field in quick­ly ze­ro­ing in on a vi­able drug pro­gram.

By set­ting up a large pile of ge­net­ic da­ta on thou­sands of pa­tients with liv­er dis­ease and com­par­ing it with se­quenc­ing da­ta on a group of tens of thou­sands of healthy peo­ple, Baras tells me, the re­searchers at Re­gen­eron’s ge­net­ics arm nar­rowed down pos­si­ble ge­net­ic trig­gers for dis­ease to a loss-of-func­tion ge­net­ic vari­a­tion in HSD17B13.

Ful­ly shut down by the vari­a­tion, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that eclips­ing the gene re­duced en­zy­mat­ic ac­tiv­i­ty:

— Cut­ting the risk of al­co­holic cir­rho­sis by 73%.

— Low­er­ing the risk of non­al­co­holic cir­rho­sis by 49%.

— And cut­ting the risk of al­co­holic liv­er dis­ease by 53%, and non­al­co­holic liv­er dis­ease by 30%, with an as­so­ci­at­ed re­duc­tion in risk of NASH.

Re­gen­eron is al­so go­ing af­ter some small mol­e­cule pro­grams in the process.

“We think this is big bi­ol­o­gy and there are dif­fer­ent shots on goal with dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties,” says Baras.

We’ll stay fo­cused here at End­points on this one to see whether it lives up to the pre­clin­i­cal promise. Tra­di­tion sug­gests that any pro­gram that goes in­to the clin­ic will have at best around a 1 in 10 shot at an ap­proval. Ge­net­ics aims to change those odds for the bet­ter.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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