Tun­ing in: In­ten­si­ty's im­mune-based chemo de­liv­ery tech at­tracts back­ing of British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon

In can­cer treat­ment, chemother­a­py and im­munother­a­py are of­ten seen as com­plete­ly sep­a­rate, if com­ple­men­tary, cat­e­gories of treat­ments. A tiny biotech out of West­port, CT now wants to shake up that par­a­digm — and has just raised $6.5 mil­lion to do so with back­ing from British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon, crowd­fund­ing in­vestor V Cap­i­tal, Bat­ter­son Ven­ture Cap­i­tal and sev­er­al fam­i­ly of­fices.

Lew Ben­der

What In­ten­si­ty Ther­a­peu­tics’ drug de­liv­ery tech al­lows them to do, CEO Lew Ben­der tells me, is to in­ject po­tent drugs di­rect­ly in­to the tu­mor, where they dif­fuse and dis­perse, es­sen­tial­ly at­ten­u­at­ing the can­cer with­out de­stroy­ing the cell sur­face. That makes the can­cer cells “much more rec­og­niz­able and there­fore more anti­genic for recog­ni­tion by the im­mune sys­tem,” un­leash­ing an at­tack not just on the in­ject­ed tu­mor but al­so on non-in­ject­ed ones, he says.

It’s a “physics ap­proach” that can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly tar­get all sorts of sol­id tu­mors, ac­cord­ing to Ben­der, a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing who spent the bet­ter part of the last two decades at a drug de­liv­ery com­pa­ny. But it was while he was at the helm of In­ter­leukin Ge­net­ics that he came up with the idea to start his own biotech ven­ture in 2012.

“If you go to ge­nomics con­fer­ences, it’s all about try­ing to get a ge­nom­ic pro­file so you can match a drug, so that you can get a bet­ter re­cep­tor up­take for that drug in­to the tu­mors,” he says, “and I thought, well, if get­ting drugs in­to tu­mors or get­ting drugs in­to can­cer cells is re­al­ly the prob­lem, I know how to do that.”

In­ten­si­ty is start­ing out with INT230-6, a for­mu­la­tion com­bin­ing its “cell pen­e­tra­tion en­hancer mol­e­cule” with the chemo drugs cis­platin and vin­blas­tine.

While Ben­der ini­tial­ly thought his tech could on­ly be used in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors, mice ex­per­i­ments sug­gest­ed that the drug alone pro­vid­ed enough stim­u­la­tion to trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse. The monother­a­py is now in Phase I/II; if all goes well with ear­ly read­outs on some of the more re­frac­to­ry tu­mors like pan­cre­at­ic, liv­er and breast can­cer, In­ten­si­ty ex­pects to launch a Phase II with­in a year.

The biotech is still keen to get its hands on a PD-1 — some­thing that Ben­der an­tic­i­pates in the next six to nine months.

“PD-1 is ba­si­cal­ly like a vol­ume di­al on a ra­dio,” he says. “Turn­ing up the di­al, which is what I/O does, doesn’t solve the prob­lem of tun­ing in. We are the tuner of the ra­dio to al­low the im­mune sys­tem to rec­og­nize the can­cer and go af­ter it in a much more ef­fi­cient way with­out as much tox­i­c­i­ty.”

With a “tiny burn rate” — around $3 mil­lion last year — and just three full time em­ploy­ees in­clud­ing him­self, Ben­der says the Se­ries B he’s just raised will fund all that, and then some, all the way through to 2020.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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Sanofi takes a $260M hit to ex­tri­cate it­self from a dis­as­trous al­liance with Lex­i­con

Sanofi spent $300 million in cash to get into a $1.7 billion alliance with Lexicon on their SGLT1/2 diabetes drug sotagliflozin. And now that the drug has been spurned by the FDA after burning through a program that provided mixed late-stage data and a late shot at a last-place finish, the French pharma giant is forking over another $260 million to get out of the deal.

Sanofi’s unhappiness was already apparent when the company — now under new CEO Paul Hudson — posted a statement back in July that they were dropping the deal. But it wasn’t that simple. 

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.