Want to start fix­ing the gen­der di­ver­si­ty prob­lem in your biotech com­pa­ny? Put down the sil­ver bul­let

There’s plen­ty of ev­i­dence to un­der­score the lack of gen­der di­ver­si­ty in se­nior po­si­tions at life sci­ences com­pa­nies and the snail’s pace of change. But Mass­Bio is tak­ing an­oth­er step to­day, try­ing to ex­plain not just why women and men typ­i­cal­ly trav­el down two dif­fer­ent ca­reer paths, but what com­pa­nies need to do to spur a pos­i­tive change to their com­pa­ny cul­ture and build a bet­ter and more di­verse work­place.

Work­ing with Karl Simp­son’s ex­ec­u­tive re­cruit­ing firm Lift­stream, which has been fo­cused on this is­sue for years, the au­thors of this new re­port in­ter­viewed hun­dreds of life sci­ences work­ers in and around the big Cam­bridge/Boston biotech hub.

They start with the con­clu­sion that men and women en­ter the in­dus­try at al­most ex­act­ly a 50/50 rate. But their ex­pe­ri­ences are of­ten quite dif­fer­ent from the time of their first job in­ter­view.

In­stead of a struc­tured in­ter­view process de­signed to find the best and the bright­est, women are much more like­ly than men to see the process as fun­da­men­tal­ly bi­ased, of­ten lean­ing to net­works and con­nec­tions. Com­pa­nies of­ten don’t em­pha­size ca­reer de­vel­op­ment — ex­act­ly what more women than men view as cen­tral to what they’re look­ing for. And there’s a dis­con­nect over flex­i­ble work­ing hours, which more women than men see as im­por­tant.

While 40% of the com­pa­nies in­ter­viewed con­sid­er them­selves in­clu­sive, on­ly 9% of the women agreed.

A third of all the women felt the com­pa­ny job re­view process was un­fair­ly bi­ased com­pared to 19% of men. Close to half of the women con­clud­ed that the wrong peo­ple were be­ing pro­mot­ed, com­pared to 29% of men.

And the high­er you go in the C-suite, the more women feel they are forced to change ca­reers to get ahead.

“Women would large­ly re­ject com­pa­nies that didn’t have gen­der di­ver­si­ty,” Simp­son tells me.

“But they’re look­ing at a num­ber of fac­tors be­yond di­ver­si­ty, where or­ga­ni­za­tions demon­strate a stronger com­mit­ment to in­creas­ing gen­der di­ver­si­ty in the com­pa­ny in spe­cif­ic ac­tions; that clear­ly is go­ing to en­tice women. That is an or­ga­ni­za­tion they might like to join.”

Karl Simp­son

The full re­port in­cludes a map for com­pa­nies that would like to find a bet­ter way to cre­ate work­place di­ver­si­ty, some of which is ob­vi­ous­ly sug­gest­ed by the women’s views about what ails life sci­ences com­pa­nies. But it’s not a quick or easy task.

“What com­pa­nies are look­ing for is a sil­ver bul­let so­lu­tion,” says Simp­son. And there isn’t one. In­stead, the re­port of­fers dozens of sug­ges­tions for fix­ing the prob­lem. It’s worth a check.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.