Top No­var­tis man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­ec jumps ship, takes charge of in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing Mod­er­na’s mR­NA tech

A lit­tle over a year ago No­var­tis’ CEO Joe Jimenez put Juan An­dres in charge of a move to slice a bil­lion dol­lars out of the glob­al man­u­fac­tur­ing bud­get through a cen­tral­ized ser­vices project. It was a clas­sic No­var­tis move, win­kling out costs in its nev­er-end­ing stream­lin­ing ef­fort that had al­ready seen it re­vamp man­u­fac­tur­ing, with 25 fa­cil­i­ties re­struc­tured or di­vest­ed over a 6-year pe­ri­od.

Now An­dres is tak­ing his Big Man­u­fac­tur­ing skills gained in Big Phar­ma — in­clud­ing the pi­o­neer­ing work done on CAR-T man­u­fac­tur­ing — and putting it to work for Mod­er­na as the biotech preps its own cen­tral man­u­fac­tur­ing site for its mR­NA plat­form. Of­fi­cial­ly, he’s hand­ing in his ti­tle as glob­al head tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions (man­u­fac­tur­ing and sup­ply) at No­var­tis for se­nior vice pres­i­dent of
late stage tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing (be­yond hu­man proof of con­cept) for Mod­er­na.

With An­dres’ ar­rival, Steve Harbin, who had been SVP for man­u­fac­tur­ing, is tran­si­tion­ing to new roles as chief of staff and chief sus­tain­abil­i­ty of­fi­cer.

“That was a big move and a big change,” An­dres tells me about his work for No­var­tis, which al­so in­volved spin­ning off fa­cil­i­ties to GSK and Eli Lil­ly in an in­te­gra­tion ef­fort that in­volved 30,000 staffers.

Stephane Ban­cel, Mod­er­na CEO

The key part of his job now is col­lect­ing the pieces of man­u­fac­tur­ing that Mod­er­na as­sem­bled for its pre­clin­i­cal and ear­ly-stage re­search ef­forts and ramp­ing up a new fa­cil­i­ty in Nor­wood, MA that will be staffed by about 200 em­ploy­ees, with a high lev­el of au­toma­tion built in.

“I’m just try­ing to get my hands around it,” An­dres tells me, about 48 hours af­ter he of­fi­cial­ly be­gan his new job. Strate­gi­cal­ly, it’s An­dres’ job “to start the in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of the plat­form, which is re­al­ly, re­al­ly im­por­tant as the pro­grams ad­vance.”

His job at No­var­tis gave him a bird’s eye view of the CAR-T man­u­fac­tur­ing that No­var­tis set up for its per­son­al­ized can­cer cell ther­a­py, which is like­ly go­ing to be the first such ther­a­py ap­proved. And both Mod­er­na CEO Stephane Ban­cel and An­dres be­lieve that one-on-one man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence will be key to scal­ing up pro­duc­tion of mR­NA prod­ucts ap­proved for use around the world.

For No­var­tis, it’s the lat­est ex­am­ple of a top ex­ec jump­ing ship for an­oth­er job in biotech. For Mod­er­na, it’s an­oth­er ex­am­ple of the biotech’s zeal for re­cruit­ing high pro­file ex­ecs for its se­nior staff and board, where Flag­ship chief and Mod­er­na co-founder Noubar Afeyan is chair­man.

Flag­ship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan

Mod­er­na isn’t just try­ing to pi­o­neer a new tech­nol­o­gy. It in­tends to forge a whole new com­pa­ny-build­ing mod­el for biotech, start­ing with rais­ing close to $2 bil­lion as it was prepar­ing a leap in­to the clin­ic. That process in­volved mul­ti­ple part­ners like Mer­ck and As­traZeneca — with Alex­ion drop­ping out re­cent­ly — as the grow­ing crew of more than 400 staffers tar­get­ed the first dozen clin­i­cal pro­grams.  The new man­u­fac­tur­ing site will em­ploy 200, and stay­ing true to its big am­bi­tions, Mod­er­na has al­ready blue­print­ed plant num­ber two.

Win­ning here would be huge. Los­ing would be a colos­sal cat­a­stro­phe. And An­dres knows what he’s get­ting in­to.

“Mak­ing a move like this is very risky,” he tells me frankly. But at the same time he’s known Ban­cel for 15 years, and he’s ea­ger to trans­late the sci­en­tif­ic work they’ve been do­ing to the CMC work he spe­cial­izes in, at an in­dus­tri­al scale.

Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Christine Bunt, Robert Langer. Verseau

Armed with Langer tech and $50M, Verseau hails new check­point drugs un­leash­ing macrophages against can­cer

The rising popularity of CD47 has propelled the “don’t-eat-me” signal to household name status in the immuno-oncology world: By blocking that protein, the theory goes, one can stop cancer cells from fooling macrophages. But just as PD-(L)1 merely represents the most fruitful of all checkpoints regulating T cells, Verseau Therapeutics is convinced that CD47 is one of many regulators one can modulate to stir up or tame the immune system.

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.

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CSL ac­cus­es ri­val Pharm­ing of par­tic­i­pat­ing in a scheme to rip off IP on HAE while re­cruit­ing se­nior R&D staffer

Pharming has landed in the middle of a legal donnybrook after recruiting a senior executive from a rival R&D team at CSL. The Australian pharma giant slapped Pharming with a lawsuit alleging that the Dutch biotech’s new employee, Joseph Chiao, looted a large cache of proprietary documents as he hit the exit. And they want it all back.
Federal Judge Juan Sanchez in the Eastern District Pennsylvania court issued an injunction on Tuesday prohibiting Chiao from doing any work on HAE or primary immune deficiency in his new job and demanding that he return any material from CSL that he may have in his possession. And he wants Pharming to tell its employees not to ask for any information on the forbidden topics.
For its part, Pharming fired off an indignant response this morning denying any involvement in extracting any kind of IP from CSL, adding that it’s cooperating in the internal probe that CSL has underway.

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Eli Lil­ly’s first PhI­II show­down for their $1.6B can­cer drug just flopped — what now?

When Eli Lilly plunked down $1.6 billion in cash to acquire Armo Biosciences a little more than a year ago, the stars seemed aligned in its favor. The jewel in the crown they were buying was pegilodecakin, which had cleared the proof-of-concept stage and was already in a Phase III trial for pancreatic cancer.

And that study just failed.

Lilly reported this morning that their cancer drug flopped on overall survival when added to FOLFOX (folinic acid, 5-FU, oxaliplatin), compared to FOLFOX alone among patients suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer.

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