Trou­bled poop-test­ing start­up uBio­me an­nounces plans for liq­ui­da­tion

Your fa­vorite, fun-lov­ing, poop-test­ing, bac­te­ria-div­ing, un­der fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion, bank­rupt start­up with the pos­si­bly fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed sci­ence is — alas — shut­ting down.

uBio­me has filed to con­vert its Chap­ter 11 bank­rupt­cy in­to a Chap­ter 7 liq­ui­da­tion, all but spelling the end for a once soar­ing com­pa­ny that part­nered with re­searchers at Har­vard and Stan­ford and wooed Sil­i­con Val­ley in­vestors, but ul­ti­mate­ly found it­self ow­ing po­ten­tial­ly hun­dreds of mil­lions to health­care com­pa­nies, lay­ing off half of its staff and un­der fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion for its billing prac­tices.

The news comes bare­ly a year af­ter the com­pa­ny an­nounced an $83 mil­lion fund­ing round and the hir­ing of for­mer No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez to head a new R&D arm in Cam­bridge, MA.

What went wrong?

From their 2012 crowd-sourced found­ing un­til the first lay­offs came this Jan­u­ary, it seemed Ubio­me could do no wrong. They were 23andMe for your gut, a young com­pa­ny with young, telegenic founders of­fer­ing a warm face to a hot new sci­ence. They promised to map your mi­cro­bio­me, the 3-pound bac­te­r­i­al ecosys­tem sci­en­tists on­ly re­cent­ly dis­cov­ered had wide im­pacts on your health, from di­ges­tion to men­tal health. Their web­site home page sent “A warm wel­come to you. And your 39 tril­lion bac­te­ria.”

Their pre­mier ser­vice was Ex­plor­er. Orig­i­nal­ly priced at $400, it of­fered to test your stool sam­ple and give back all sorts of health-re­lat­ed ad­vice. Since then, they’ve widened their fo­cus to in­clude vagi­nal health and STDs women face.

But while their blog of­fered fun tips about di­et, sleep and “could your sum­mer fling change your mi­cro­bio­me?” some re­searchers were sound­ing alarms. They of­fered the same warn­ing re­searchers gave about 23andMe’s first for­ays in­to health-re­lat­ed ad­vice: It’s too soon and the sci­ence isn’t there. (23andMe has since gained FDA ap­proval for sev­er­al health-re­lat­ed ser­vices).

Ian Lip­kin Co­lum­bia

“I don’t think we know enough yet about the mi­cro­bio­me to be able to ad­vice peo­ple as to how they should mod­i­fy their di­et or change their lifestyles based on a kit of this sort,” Co­lum­bia epi­demi­ol­o­gist Ian Lip­kin told The At­lantic’s James Ham­blin in a 2016 video, of­fer­ing a 10-year time­frame for when the sci­ence will be ready.

In that video, uBio­me told the quite svelte Ham­blin that based on his test that he had the mi­cro­bio­me of an over­weight, de­pressed man. He did not con­firm the de­pres­sion sug­ges­tion.

The first sign of trou­ble came in Jan­u­ary, when the start­up cut 55 jobs out of its 300-per­son work­force, re­port­ed­ly to fo­cus on drugs and part­ner­ships. In May, founders Jes­si­ca Rich­man and Zac Apte were placed on leave as the FBI be­gan an in­quiry in­to the com­pa­ny’s billing process. This sum­mer, Busi­ness In­sid­er re­port­ed the com­pa­ny had laid off half its staff and that its sci­ence may have been flawed from the start.

They filled for Chap­ter 11 at the be­gin­ning of Sep­tem­ber. Court doc­u­ments re­vealed they may owe hun­dreds of mil­lions to health­care com­pa­nies, BI re­port­ed.

Cap­ping Pas­cal So­ri­ot’s big turn­around, the an­a­lysts at Cowen say As­traZeneca is poised for a stel­lar year

Big Pharmas typically don’t get a lot of respect for R&D efforts. Their ROI is bad on a massive annual bill, there’s too much late-stage failure, analysts fret about the endurance of big franchises and the impact of generic competition.

Even as Pascal Soriot is staunching the bleeding around a badly handled Phase III readout for their Covid-19 vaccine, though, the AstraZeneca CEO is taking a bow today as Cowen lavishes praise on the pipeline and near-term prospects for the multinational — for the second year in a row.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos (via Getty Images)

With ad­u­canum­ab caught on a cliff, Bio­gen’s Michel Vounatsos bets bil­lions on an­oth­er high-risk neu­ro play

With its FDA pitch on the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab hanging perilously close to disaster, Biogen is rolling the dice on a $3.1 billion deal that brings in commercial rights to one of the other spotlight neuro drugs in late-stage development — after it already failed its first Phase III.

The big biotech has turned to Sage Therapeutics for its latest deal, close to a year after the crushing failure of Sage-217, now dubbed zuranolone, in the MOUNTAIN study.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Kenji Yasukawa

Shop­ping for a hol­i­day pipeline gift? How about an an­ti-NGF an­ti­body from Astel­las?

Astellas is trimming its pipeline again, and this time, they’re letting anyone — literally, anyone — bid to acquire the spare parts.

The Japanese Pharma posted a form on their website last week, allowing any interested buyers to apply for any of eight different assets. Need an anti-NGF monoclonal antibody or a dopamine D1 receptor positive allosteric modulator for that special someone in your life this holiday season? Just fill out a quick company and contact info form here, upload up to 3 files, and a representative from Astellas may be in touch.

Scoop: Google’s GV spear­heads the Spot­light syn­di­cate — back­ing an up­start biotech aimed at ‘de­moc­ra­tiz­ing’ gene edit­ing

CRISPR had no sooner started to shake the very foundations of drug development before its limitations began to loom large. Gene editing could change the world — if only you could get around the hurdles that threatened to trip up every program.

So it’s only natural to see CRISPR 2.0 taking shape before the pioneers can get the lead therapies through development. And who better than Google’s GV venture arm to take the lead spot in a small syndicate backing some scientists with their own unique twist on a solution?

Stephané Bancel (Endpoints at JPM20)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na cal­i­brates fi­nal Covid-19 vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy at 94.1% — and to­day it's gun­ning for the EUA

Nearly a year ago, as the coronavirus emerged in China, the NIH and four major companies bet on an unproven genetic technology as the best tool for developing a vaccine to stem the outbreak. Today, a second such vaccine is heading to the FDA.

Moderna said Monday that they will request an emergency use authorization from the FDA after a final analysis showed their mRNA vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19. The data confirm the results from an interim analysis and matches efficacy Pfizer and BioNTech showed in a Phase III study, setting the biotech up to potentially nab one of the first two Covid-19 vaccine OKs.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sev­er­al weeks af­ter get­ting hit with an RTF, Y-mAbs lands ap­proval for its oth­er neu­rob­las­toma can­di­date

Nearly two months after handing Y-mAbs a refusal to file letter for one of its main neuroblastoma candidates, the FDA gave the biotech an accelerated OK for the other — but with a box warning.

Y-mAbs, which flew mostly under the radar until a few years ago, snagged approval for naxitamab-gqgk as a second-line treatment in combination with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). Patients older than 1 year old can take the drug for relapsed or refractory high-risk neuroblastoma in the bone or bone marrow. The good news cushioned last month’s blow, sending the company’s stock $YMAB — which sank more than 18% upon news of the RTF — up 10.15% as of Monday morning.

FDA gives Rhythm the green light for set­melan­otide, a drug aimed at re­duc­ing obe­si­ty in cer­tain ge­net­ic dis­or­ders

A little over a year after completing successful pivotal trials, Rhythm Pharmaceuticals $RYTM has its first drug approval on its hands.

The Boston-based biotech announced Friday that the FDA gave setmelanotide the thumbs-up for three rare genetic disorders that result in obesity in patients six and older. It’s the agency’s first such approval, Rhythm said, with the indicated deficiencies being the POMC, PCSK1 and LEPR genes. Rhythm will market the drug as Imcivree, and plans to have it on the shelves in the first quarter of 2021.

Pascal Soriot (Getty)

As­traZeneca CEO So­ri­ot plans new study to test that con­tro­ver­sial 90% ef­fi­ca­cy fig­ure, wait­ing for US da­ta be­fore go­ing to FDA

Pascal Soriot spent the long Thanksgiving weekend digging AstraZeneca out of a hole, promising to put an end to the questions around its interim Phase III vaccine data by conducting a new study while going to regulators with a large part of what it already has.

AstraZeneca and its partners at Oxford had initially touted high-level results from two studies conducted in the UK and Brazil as positive. But the enthusiasm was soon shadowed by confusion as observers probed into how the highest, 90% efficacy was seen in a dosing regimen given to a small group of volunteers due to an error. Among a larger cohort given the intended shots, the vaccine was only 62% effective, a rate that would’ve been respectable had Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna not posted efficacy rates of 94%, 95% for their mRNA candidates. And many weren’t sure what to make of the average 70% number that AstraZeneca ran in headlines.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Robert Clarke (Kinaset)

Ki­naset launch­es with $40M and a JAK in­hibitor from Vec­tura's old pipeline

Kinaset Therapeutics is joining the search for a better severe asthma treatment, picking up where Vectura left off when it decided to clear house last year.

UK-based Vectura — which took a big hit when its most advanced candidate flopped in a Phase III asthma trial back in 2018 — recently shifted to a CDMO model, offloading all of its R&D programs. Robert Clarke, who’s worked on inhalable therapeutics for 21-plus years, had close contacts at the company and took a look at what they were offering. After doing some research, he was attracted by VR475, a pan-JAK inhibitor.