There are 2,004 can­cer im­munother­a­pies crowd­ing in­to the pipeline. Now what?

Here’s a sim­ple set of facts with some com­plex im­pli­ca­tions.

There were 469 new PD-1/L1 can­cer check­point stud­ies launched this year, which re­quire 52,000 pa­tients to ful­ly en­roll all of them.

On the one hand, re­searchers for the non­prof­it Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute say, that sen­tence un­der­scores the boom in im­munother­a­py that’s been trans­form­ing can­cer treat­ment around the world.

But there’s more.

The ex­plo­sion of pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal-stage pro­grams that has erupt­ed in im­munother­a­pies is rais­ing se­ri­ous ques­tions about the in­trin­sic val­ue of each hu­man study be­ing mount­ed for more than 2,000 I/O agents now in de­vel­op­ment. Is there a more ef­fi­cient way to man­age stud­ies, to get the max­i­mum im­pact from every new tri­al? Can you jus­ti­fy all these tri­als, par­tic­u­lar­ly small, sin­gle-site ef­forts?

Be­fore rais­ing the is­sue, the CRI — which spe­cial­izes in im­munother­a­pies — want­ed to present a clear pic­ture of the scene to every­one in the field.

By as­sign­ing two tu­mor im­mu­nol­o­gists to comb through a va­ri­ety of glob­al tri­al data­bas­es over a year’s time, Aiman Sha­l­abi — CRI’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor of the An­na-Maria Kellen Clin­i­cal Ac­cel­er­a­tor — be­lieves that they have, for the first time, es­tab­lished a bird’s eye view of the en­tire im­munother­a­py land­scape span­ning the plan­et, from Shang­hai to Boston. Sha­l­abi jour­neyed to Gene­va to share the re­sults this week­end with the Eu­ro­pean So­ci­ety of Med­ical On­col­o­gy IO meet­ing in Gene­va.

It is stag­ger­ing in scope.

“It’s nev­er been seen be­fore in the drug de­vel­op­ment space or the can­cer space,” says Sha­l­abi, and it’s re­shap­ing can­cer R&D in ways that de­mand some new ap­proach­es to de­vel­op­ment. “It’s time to stop putting new sci­ence on top of the old in­fra­struc­ture and do things dif­fer­ent­ly.”

Do­ing that is go­ing to re­ly on more col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts in the in­dus­try and acad­e­mia, and he is spear­head­ing a move to do more of that at the CRI af­ter rais­ing the sub­ject in can­cer R&D cir­cles.

Among the high­lights of the CRI re­port:

— There are 2,004 im­munother­a­py agents in de­vel­op­ment.

— 940 of these I/O ther­a­pies are in clin­i­cal-stage de­vel­op­ment, with 1,064 in the pre­clin­i­cal stage.

— There are 164 PD-1/L1 agents in de­vel­op­ment, with 50 in the clin­ic and 5 on the mar­ket. They have in­spired 1,502 tri­als with 1,105 com­bos.

— 344 are can­cer vac­cines in hu­man stud­ies, and 224 are clin­i­cal-stage cell ther­a­pies.

— There are 69 on­colyt­ic virus­es in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, all in the sec­ond wave be­hind Am­gen’s T-Vec; 95 are pre­clin­i­cal.

— There are 99 T cell tar­get­ed im­munomod­u­la­tors in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, 199 in pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

— There are 165 dif­fer­ent tar­gets be­ing com­bined in check­point stud­ies, with 251 in­clud­ing an an­ti-CT­LA-4 and 170 in­volv­ing chemother­a­pies.

— 0f 1,105 PD-1/L1 drug stud­ies CRI ex­am­ined, 60% are small­er, non-in­dus­try sup­port­ed tri­als.

That last point in par­tic­u­lar at­tract­ed Sha­l­abi’s at­ten­tion. These small­er stud­ies of­ten in­volve aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers in sin­gle-site tri­als, re­ly­ing on mod­est sup­port from the man­u­fac­tur­er. At a time that each new study in the re­cent wave in­volves dwin­dling num­bers of pa­tients, Sha­l­abi sees two un­der­ly­ing trends: The abil­i­ty to track a ben­e­fit with small­er pa­tient groups, and these sin­gle-site af­fairs that are like­ly to de­liv­er da­ta that will be hard­er to in­ter­pret.

Says Sha­l­abi: “It’s go­ing to be a big chal­lenge to re­cruit and then in­ter­pret them.”

“More and more of these stud­ies are just be­ing de­signed lo­cal­ly; there’s an ap­pear­ance of over­crowd­ing,” he says. “I won­der if these small stud­ies are go­ing to make a con­tri­bu­tion.”

Sha­l­abi be­lieves the da­ta un­der­score the need for more col­lab­o­ra­tions, a greater em­pha­sis on mul­ti-site stud­ies with a more care­ful use of um­brel­la tri­al plat­forms to find faster and more ef­fi­cient means of putting I/O agents through hu­man stud­ies.

There’s one oth­er thing that Sha­l­abi doesn’t doubt.

“What we’ve found is just an un­be­liev­able amount of in­no­va­tion out there,” he says. And it is hav­ing a re­al im­pact on the stan­dard of care in can­cer.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.

Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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No­vavax snags Ben Machielse for CMC and pro­motes a trio of staffers; Mar­ty Du­vall lands an­oth­er CEO post at On­copep­tides

Novavax has been making waves recently by securing a $384 million commitment from CEPI to cover R&D and manufacturing for its Covid-19 vaccine while also spending $167 million on a 150,000 square-foot facility. The Maryland biotech continues to shore up its leadership team as well, bringing in Ben Machielse as their EVP of CMC just a couple weeks after nabbing AstraZeneca vet Filip Dubrovsky as their new CMO. Machielse was president and CEO of Vtesse from 2014-17, and before that, he also spent more than 11 years at MedImmune and was EVP of operations for the back half of his tenure.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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