Ver­tex CFO Thomas Graney ex­its abrupt­ly; Eli Lil­ly touts a head-to-head win over Hu­mi­ra

→ Ver­tex CFO Thomas Graney has abrupt­ly re­signed. The bell­wether Boston biotech says that COO Ian Smith will fill in on a tem­po­rary ba­sis. There was no ex­pla­na­tion for the de­par­ture — Graney hand­ed in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter on De­cem­ber 13 — out­lined in an SEC fil­ing Mon­day morn­ing. UP­DATE: Af­ter we re­port­ed this Mon­day, a start­up named Gen­er­a­tion Bio — helmed by Ge­off Mc­Do­nough — put out a no­tice that Graney had de­cid­ed to jump over to be­come their CFO. So mys­tery solved.

→ Eli Lil­ly $LLY is boast­ing about a big win in a head-to-head study pit­ting their drug Taltz against Ab­b­Vie’s $AB­BV pow­er­house drug Hu­mi­ra. Re­searchers say their drug beat out the world’s top sell­ing drug on the pri­ma­ry — the pro­por­tion of pa­tients si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly achiev­ing at least a 50% re­duc­tion in dis­ease ac­tiv­i­ty…as well as com­plete skin clear­ance — and all ma­jor sec­ondary end­points. Lil­ly re­cruit­ed 566 ac­tive PsA pa­tients for the Phase II­Ib study.

→ Dai­ichi Sankyo has out-li­censed its Phase I ROS1/NTRK in­hibitor DS-6051 to Bask­ing Ridge, NJ-based An­Heart Ther­a­peu­tics for an un­spec­i­fied up­front and mile­stones. The two com­pa­nies will com­plete two on­go­ing Phase I stud­ies, af­ter which An­Heart will be in con­trol.

The promise of RNA splic­ing is en­tic­ing high-pro­file names. Ei­sai’s US unit, H3 Bio­med­i­cine, and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY are join­ing hands to see whether ther­a­peu­tics lever­ag­ing H3’s RNA splic­ing plat­form can pro­vide a more pow­er­ful re­sponse against can­cer. The deal comes months af­ter an­ti­sense start­up Stoke Ther­a­peu­tics — whose ex­per­i­men­tal drug is de­signed to up-reg­u­late pro­duc­tion of a pro­tein miss­ing in pa­tients with Dravet syn­drome by tar­get­ing RNA splic­ing — raked in $90 mil­lion in a Se­ries B round.

Lon­don’s White City hub has at­tract­ed an­oth­er life sci­ences play­er — Gam­maDelta Ther­a­peu­tics — to the par­ty. The West Lon­don re­gion, which bor­ders Im­pe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don’s re­search and in­no­va­tion cam­pus, has be­come a British biotech fa­vorite, most re­cent­ly lur­ing No­var­tis $NVS to set up shop in the West­Works, part of the re­birth of the old BBC Me­dia Vil­lage cam­pus in the area . Gam­maDelta has al­so re­lo­cat­ed to West­Works from the Lon­don Bio­Science In­no­va­tion Cen­tre near St Pan­cras.

Shang­hai Hen­lius Biotech, the Fo­s­un/Hen­lius joint ven­ture that was once tipped to be the first com­pa­ny to take ad­van­tage of Hong Kong’s new list­ing rules for pre-rev­enue biotechs, has ap­plied for an IPO at the HKEX. Its pipeline is di­vid­ed be­tween biosim­i­lars and nov­el bi­o­log­ics tar­get­ing can­cer and oth­er dis­eases.

Pen­ny stock biotech Can­cer Ge­net­ics $CGIX has ter­mi­nat­ed its merg­er agree­ment with Nov­el­lus­Dx.

Karyopharm lines up $150 mil­lion cash in­jec­tion to back con­tro­ver­sial drug launch

Karyopharm has entered into a royalty agreement worth up to $150 million to back the launch of their multiple myeloma drug — recently approved by the FDA over the objections of a majority of the agency’s outside experts.

The deal with HealthCare Royalty Partners, worth $75 million now and $75 million once certain regulatory and commercial milestones have been reached, will fund the commercialization of Karyopharm’s oral SINE compound Xpovio (selinexor) for patients with multiple myeloma who have already had at least four prior therapies. The money will help Karyopharm as it markets its newly approved drug and pushes through clinical trials testing the drug on refractory multiple myeloma patients with one to three therapies and patients with treatment-resistant diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. It will give Karyopharm a cushion through mid-2021.

Af­ter a run of CT­LA-4 com­bo fail­ures, sci­en­tists spot­light a way to make it work — in se­lect pa­tients

CTLA-4/PD-(L)1 combinations have been one of the El Dorados of oncology, its promise forever behind that next hill but apparently unattainable after a series of pivotal clinical failures. But researchers at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Technical University of Munich think they may know how to fix what’s wrong and boost the drive to next-gen cancer combos.

In a preclinical animal research program, researchers found that within a cell, checkpoints rely on a specific molecule — RNA-sensing molecule RIG-I — to work. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has already been identified as a target for boosting immune responses and was subject to at least one Phase I/II trial. Pfizer in December allied itself with Kineta with $15 million upfront and $505 million in potential milestones to develop RIG-I immunotherapies, and three years ago Merck purchased German upstart Rigontec for $137 million upfront and over $400 million in potential milestones for the same purpose.

Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation for a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month.

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Pur­due Phar­ma files for bank­rupt­cy as first step in $10B opi­oid set­tle­ment

It’s settled. Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy as part of a deal that would see the OxyContin maker hand over $10 billion in cash and other contributions to mitigate the opioid crisis — without acknowledging any wrongdoing in the protracted epidemic that’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The announcement came two weeks after news of a proposed settlement surfaced and largely confirm what’s already been reported.

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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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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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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