Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie CEO (Pablo Martinez Monsivais via AP)

Treg space con­tin­ues to heat up as Ab­b­Vie puts up al­most $50M up­front to part­ner with lit­tle-known biotech

Ab­b­Vie is join­ing its fel­low Big Phar­ma com­peti­tors and jump­ing in­to the Treg space.

In a col­lab­o­ra­tion deal an­nounced ear­ly Mon­day morn­ing, the Chica­go-based phar­ma com­pa­ny said it would be team­ing up with pri­vate biotech Cu­gene to ad­vance a sin­gle Treg pro­gram tar­get­ing IL-2. Ab­b­Vie is shelling out $48.5 mil­lion up­front to col­lab­o­rate and will pay an undis­closed sum of mile­stones and roy­al­ties.

Ab­b­Vie al­so gets the op­tion to ob­tain an ex­clu­sive li­cense for cer­tain IL-2-tar­get­ing Treg pro­grams, in­clud­ing the one in­volved in Mon­day’s deal, dubbed CUG252. The can­di­date, Cu­gene’s lead, is of­fi­cial­ly de­scribed as a “Treg-se­lec­tive IL-2 mutein” de­signed to treat au­toim­mune and in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases.

Re­searchers hope to treat these con­di­tions us­ing Treg cells, which po­lice the im­mune sys­tem and can rec­og­nize the body’s own pro­teins. They are able to tell oth­er im­mune cells not to at­tack when they see cells stud­ded with those re­cep­tors, but can go awry in cer­tain dis­eases when the im­mune sys­tem at­tacks healthy cells.

By si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly tar­get­ing IL-2, the can­di­date at­tempts to use Tregs to fight such con­di­tions while al­so tamp­ing down on un­de­sired IL-2 ac­tiv­i­ty.

Ab­b­Vie is join­ing an in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed Treg space that’s seen in­vest­ment from Mer­ck, Take­da, Am­gen, Eli Lil­ly, Sang­amo and a suite of up-and-com­ing biotechs. The ball has re­al­ly got­ten rolling in the last 18 months or so, par­tic­u­lar­ly af­ter Mer­ck’s $1.85 bil­lion buy­out of Pan­dion in Feb­ru­ary 2021.

Tru­ist Se­cu­ri­ties an­a­lyst Robyn Kar­nauskas notes it’s still way too ear­ly to anoint a win­ner or fron­trun­ner in this Big Phar­ma race. Ab­b­Vie’s deal with Cu­gene serves more as an­oth­er val­i­da­tion point for the path­way, while dou­bly boost­ing Ab­b­Vie’s al­ready dom­i­nant po­si­tion in the im­munother­a­py space.

The deal could al­so give a com­pet­i­tive edge to Sang­amo, Kar­nauskas said, which is the on­ly com­pa­ny in the clin­ic with an “en­gi­neered CAR-Treg cell ther­a­py.”

For Cu­gene, mean­while, this deal like­ly puts the biotech on the map as there is lit­tle known about it — the com­pa­ny has yet to put out one of its own press re­leas­es. A com­pa­ny web­site does de­tail some of its pipeline, where Cu­gene out­lines its goals to go af­ter sol­id tu­mors with oth­er pro­grams. But CUG252 re­mains the com­pa­ny’s on­ly clin­i­cal pro­gram thus far.

“To­day’s agree­ment high­lights Cu­gene’s unique pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing plat­form that has yield­ed mul­ti­ple prod­uct can­di­dates, in­clud­ing CUG252,” Cu­gene CEO Luke Li said in a state­ment Mon­day.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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