Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics adds proof its gene ther­a­py for Parkin­son's can work, shares soar

Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics $VY­GR says it’s turned an im­por­tant cor­ner in its de­vel­op­ment of a gene ther­a­py that can play a ma­jor role in res­cu­ing Parkin­son’s pa­tients from the in­evitable de­cline as­so­ci­at­ed with their re­sponse to lev­odopa.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech has fleshed out its ear­ly-stage proof-of-con­cept da­ta on VY-AADC01, of­fer­ing new da­ta that demon­strate a height­ened ef­fi­ca­cy for two high­er dos­es of the gene ther­a­py. Ex­ec­u­tives at Voy­ager tell me that they’re heart­ened to see a dose-de­pen­dent re­sponse in a key bio­mark­er on their ther­a­py’s im­pact, with im­prove­ments in hourly “on” times, a drop in “off” times and bet­ter qual­i­ty of liv­ing scores from the 15 pa­tients di­vid­ed in­to three ther­a­peu­tic co­horts.

A low dose of the gene ther­a­py paled in com­par­i­son to the two oth­er co­horts in the study, which did not in­clude a place­bo group.

Voy­ager joined a crowd of biotechs in the win­ners cir­cle on Wall Street this morn­ing, with its shares – up about 10% yes­ter­day – adding an 36% spike Wednes­day.

Voy­ager CEO Steven Paul

“Co­hort 2 con­tin­ues to look great,” Voy­ager CEO Steve Paul tells me. “We need to wait to get Co­hort 3 to 12 months to choose the dose for the piv­otal tri­al.”

But it’s com­ing. And with it, Voy­ager is map­ping plans to ex­e­cute a tri­al that can be used to seek an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

There are all sorts of caveats that ap­ply to this da­ta, aside from the lack of a place­bo arm. The num­bers of pa­tients in­volved in this lat­est up­date, which fol­lows the first round of pos­i­tive re­sults from the ear­ly tri­al, re­mains small. A piv­otal will be much more de­mand­ing. And Voy­ager re­searchers — who ear­li­er record­ed a blood clot case in the study — still has to prove that the process can be done com­plete­ly safe­ly.

But now there’s more sol­id da­ta to un­der­score that Voy­ager’s ap­proach has promise, a rare event in Parkin­son’s, one of the tough­est dis­eases in biotech. And they say that a move to in­sert the gene ther­a­py through the back of the head ap­pears safe and eas­i­er to com­plete.

The gene ther­a­py is de­signed to com­plete a sim­ple task. Parkin­son’s pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly re­spond well to lev­odopa to pro­vide the dopamine pa­tients need fol­low­ing the death of neu­rons in the brain. But their re­sponse de­clines, re­quir­ing ever high­er dos­es of lev­odopa with ever di­min­ish­ing re­turns. Voy­ager’s gene ther­a­py in­tro­duces an en­zyme that con­verts lev­odopa to dopamine, and this study un­der­scores that pa­tients were able to get a bet­ter ef­fect with low­er dos­ing — a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment.

“What we’re do­ing is putting the gene for that en­zyme in neu­rons that are still alive and healthy, ar­ti­fi­cial­ly al­low­ing the brain re­gion to con­tin­ue mak­ing dopamine,” says Paul, a long­time Eli Lil­ly vet be­fore he jumped in­to biotech.

Those dead neu­rons, adds Paul, aren’t com­ing back to life. Voy­ager looks at this as a restora­tive strat­e­gy, which in pri­mates has proved ef­fec­tive 15 years out.

The plan now is to launch a po­ten­tial­ly piv­otal tri­al with 40-42 pa­tients in the first half of next year, point­ing to a pos­si­ble BLA if reg­u­la­tors sign off.

Paul says Voy­ager is right on track dur­ing a key tran­si­tion point for his com­pa­ny, one of a wave of gene ther­a­py biotechs that gained the spot­light in re­cent years. As Di­men­sion’s prob­lems with he­mo­phil­ia B proved, along with its re­cent sale to Re­gen­rx, not all these com­pa­nies will make it through. But Voy­ager is still very much in the game.

Inside FDA HQ (File photo)

The FDA just ap­proved the third Duchenne MD drug. And reg­u­la­tors still don’t know if any of them work

Last year Sarepta hit center stage with the FDA’s controversial reversal of its CRL for the company’s second Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug — after the biotech was ambushed by agency insiders ready to reject a second pitch based on the same disease biomarker used for the first approval for eteplirsen, without actual data on the efficacy of the drug.

On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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FDA ap­proves the third NSOMD drug in 18 months as Roche/Genen­tech beefs up its port­fo­lio of drugs for neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders

There were no FDA approved treatments for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder at the start of 2019. Now, as of Friday, there are three.

The latest entrant to the market is the Roche/Genentech drug satralizumab after US regulators gave it the thumbs up late Friday. An IL-6 inhibitor, the drug joins Alexion’s Soliris and AstraZeneca spinout Viela Bio’s Uplizna. The annual cost of satralizumab — which will hit the market as Enspryng — will be $190,000 for 13 doses, a Genentech spokesperson said, though the first year of treatment requires 15 doses and cost about $220,000.

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Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO

UP­DAT­ED: On the heels of a snap $1B raise, Cure­Vac out­lines plans to seek emer­gency OK for Covid-19 vac­cine -- shares rock­et up

CureVac is going from being one of the quietest players in the race to develop a new vaccine to fight the worst public health crisis in a century to a challenger for the multibillion-dollar market that awaits the first vaccines to make it over the finish line. Typically low-key at a time of brash comments and incredibly ambitious development timelines from the leaders, CureVac now is jumping straight into the spotlight.

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US gov­ern­ment re­port­ed­ly be­gins prepar­ing for Covid-19 chal­lenge tri­als. Are they eth­i­cal?

Controversial human challenge trials for potential Covid-19 vaccines reportedly have a new booster — the US government.

Scientists working for the government have begun manufacturing a strain of the novel coronavirus that could be used in such studies, Reuters reported Friday morning. The trials would enroll healthy volunteers to be vaccinated and then intentionally infected with a weakened coronavirus.

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Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

Stéphane Bancel speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House meeting on March 2 (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na of­fers steep dis­count in US sup­ply deal — but still takes the crown with close to $2.5B in vac­cine con­tracts

The US pre-order for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is in.

Operation Warp Speed is reserving $1.525 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna’s Phase III mRNA candidate, rounding out to about $15 per dose — including $300 million in incentive payments for timely delivery. Given that Moderna has a two-dose regimen, it’s good for vaccinating 50 million people. The US government also has the option to purchase another 400 million doses for a total of $6.6 billion, or $16.5 per dose.

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Trevor Martin (Mammoth)

Eye­ing in-vi­vo edit­ing, Mam­moth li­cens­es Jen­nifer Doud­na’s new CRISPR en­zyme

Last month, Jennifer Doudna revealed in Science a new, “hyper-compact” CRISPR enzyme that was half the size of traditional CRISPR enzymes and could, she suspected, offer a new, more versatile tool for gene editing.

Now, the University of California-Berkeley has licensed that enzyme, known as Casφ, exclusively to a biotech startup she and two former students set up three years ago: Mammoth Biosciences. It’s the second new CRISPR protein Mammoth has licensed from Doudna’s lab, after they licensed Cas14 in 2019.

Clockwise from left: Canaccord Genuity principal Michelle Gilson, Canaccord Genuity CSO Brian Mueller and BioMarin CSO Hank Fuchs (Canaccord Genuity webcast)

Bio­Marin CSO diss­es ri­vals for the he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py crown: Way be­hind, fac­ing big re­cruit­ment chal­lenges and at best a .6 on the gen-one scale

The leader in the race to a hemophilia A gene therapy does not like to be compared unfavorably to the competition. And when their top execs do the comparing, don’t look for any modesty — BioMarin, they say, owns the lead.

As Factor VIII expression wanes over time, quite a few analysts have raised questions about the kind of future BioMarin’s gene therapy — a supposed once-and-done treatment — faces if it stops working. But just 7 days away from their PDUFA date, with high odds of success, the top execs clearly feel that they are way out front, while promising their rivals will discover there’s a tough slog ahead trying to pursue trials where large numbers of patients are ineligible for new therapies.

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Sanofi vet Kather­ine Bowdish named CEO of PIC Ther­a­peu­tics; As the world Terns: Liv­er dis­ease biotech makes ex­ec­u­tive changes

PIC Therapeutics hasn’t raised much money, yet. But the fledgling biotech has attracted a high-profile player to the helm.

The Boston-based biotech has handed the reins to Katherine Bowdish as its president and CEO. Bowdish will also join the board of directors of PIC. Bowdish joins from Sanofi where she served as VP and head of R&D strategy, as well as helping launch and lead Sanofi Sunrise, a venture investment and partnering vehicle at Sanofi. Before that, Bowdish held several exec roles at Permeon Biologics, Anaphore, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Prolifaron (acquired by Alexion).