Vi­en­na-based vac­cine de­vel­op­er Themis signs pact with Mer­ck for 'block­buster in­di­ca­tion'

Months af­ter se­cur­ing up to $21 mil­lion in fund­ing from the Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness In­no­va­tions (CEPI) for its Chikun­gun­ya vac­cine — which is be­ing prepped for a late-stage tri­al — Vi­en­na, Aus­tria-based Themis Bio­science en­tered in­to a pact with US drug­mak­er Mer­ck.

The Eu­ro­pean vac­cine de­vel­op­er formed in 2009 and a year lat­er joined forces with the In­sti­tut Pas­teur — gain­ing ex­clu­sive ac­cess to a measles virus vac­cine vec­tor tech­nol­o­gy, which now forms the back­bone of its plat­form.

Con­sid­er­ing it has been used to vac­ci­nate bil­lions of peo­ple, the at­ten­u­at­ed measles virus is one of the most ef­fec­tive and safe vac­cines avail­able, mak­ing it an at­trac­tive can­di­date vec­tor to avert in­fec­tious dis­ease.

In con­trast to oth­er ap­proach­es, Themis has de­vel­oped the tech­nol­o­gy to in­cor­po­rate mul­ti­ple large re­com­bi­nant pro­tein anti­gens in­to the vec­tor, which then acts as a de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle to trans­port the anti­gen pay­load di­rect­ly to macrophages and den­drit­ic cells. Fur­ther, since the vec­tor it­self repli­cates — there­by ex­press­ing anti­gens even af­ter im­mu­niza­tion — Themis’ vac­cine can­di­dates are en­gi­neered to con­fer long-term im­mu­ni­ty, chief Erich Tauber told End­points News.

Apart from its lead ex­per­i­men­tal Chikun­gun­ya vac­cine, Themis has a Zi­ka vac­cine and Las­sa fever in ear­ly-stage de­vel­op­ment. It al­so has a range of pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, in­clud­ing those for res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­cy­tial virus (RSV), cy­tomegalovirus (CMV), norovirus and Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (MERS).

The vec­tor al­so has the in­trin­sic abil­i­ty to at­tack can­cer cells, which has been demon­strat­ed in var­i­ous pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies, he added. The com­pa­ny is there­fore cap­i­tal­iz­ing on that po­ten­tial by equip­ping the vec­tor with ad­di­tion­al tu­mor-killing pay­loads to de­vel­op on­col­o­gy treat­ments. Themis’s first im­muno-on­col­o­gy vac­cine is set to en­ter the clin­ic this year.

The terms of the Mer­ck $MRK part­ner­ship are shroud­ed in mys­tery. The two will work on a “block­buster in­di­ca­tion” and the New Jer­sey-based drug man­u­fac­tur­er will grant up to $200 mil­lion in mile­stone pay­ments, in ad­di­tion to roy­al­ties. Mer­ck has al­so made an undis­closed eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment in Themis.

Mer­ck, which has been bask­ing in the suc­cess of its flag­ship check­point in­hibitor Keytru­da, caus­ing some to wor­ry it may be lean­ing too heav­i­ly on the block­buster, has sharp­ened its fo­cus on its vac­cine port­fo­lio. In May, its pneu­mo­coc­cal con­ju­gate vac­cine can­di­date aimed at top­pling Pfiz­er’s best­seller, Pre­vnar 13, cleared a mid-stage study — and is al­so be­ing eval­u­at­ed in var­i­ous Phase III tri­als. Mer­ck al­so has a part­ner­ship with mR­NA com­pa­ny Mod­er­na $MR­NA, fo­cused on per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cines that are cus­tomized for each pa­tient.

Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Moncef Slaoui, Getty Images

When will it end? Big Phar­ma's top vac­cine ex­pert at OWS of­fers a speedy time­line for a Covid-19 vac­cine — ei­ther be­fore or right af­ter the elec­tion

Moncef Slaoui hasn’t started making plans for his summer vacation next year. But he offers high odds that all Americans will be able to do that in the not too distant future.

In an interview with a pair of sympathetic podcasters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Slaoui provides an education to listeners on how any drug or vaccine can be sped through trials. And he leaves the door wide open to the notion that the leading vaccine developers can demonstrate efficacy and safety in a compelling fashion as early as October — or as late as the end of this year.

Levi Garraway, Roche CMO (Source: Genentech)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hands out a quick OK for po­ten­tial SMA block­buster ris­diplam, giv­ing Genen­tech and Roche a chance to chal­lenge ri­vals on the price

US regulators handed Roche and Genentech a big win Friday afternoon, one that has market-shaping potential for its high-priced rivals from Novartis and Biogen.

The FDA has green-lit the companies’ spinal muscular atrophy drug risdiplam, which will be marketed as Evrysdi in the US, for use in patients two months and older. It’s the first SMA drug that can be taken orally, as Biogen’s Spinraza is injected into the spine while Novartis’ Zolgensma is a gene therapy.

Bio­haven adds near­ly $1B in Nurtec deals with Roy­al­ty Phar­ma, Sixth Street

Biohaven just added nearly $1 billion to their balance sheet.

On Friday morning, the neuroscience biotech announced a pair of creative agreements with Royalty Pharma and the investment firm Sixth Street to bolster the commercial launch of their new migraine drug, Nurtec. Biohaven will sell a sliver of its royalties on Nurtec and 3% of the royalties on their experimental migraine drug zavegepant to Royalty Pharma as part of a larger agreeement that will pay $450 million. At the same time, the company announced they took out a $500 million loan from Sixth Street.

Per­cep­tive fields SPAC #3 as an­oth­er group of biotechs scoops up $364M in lat­est Nas­daq romp

There’s no sign that the windfall of cash dropping biotech’s way on Wall Street is abating. Three more biopharmas priced IPOs on Thursday and Friday morning, riding a historic boom with a $364 million payoff.

London-based biotech Freeline Therapeutics took home the lion’s share of the cash with $159 million after pricing 8,823,529 shares at $18 a pop. Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, of Cambridge, MA, raised $75 million with an offer of 5 million shares at $15 — right at the midpoint of its range. And Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp III, the third in a series from Perceptive, priced 13,000,000 shares at $10 per share.

Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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