Well, that got awk­ward. Arc­turus fires back at ex-CEO Joe Payne

The bat­tle roy­al be­tween Arc­turus and its for­mer CEO con­tin­ues, with Fri­day bring­ing a fresh state­ment to the melo­dra­ma. This time, Arc­turus is fir­ing back.

Over the last cou­ple of weeks, the feisti­est of the two par­ties was Joseph Payne, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive who was fired from the com­pa­ny for al­leged­ly putting his own self in­ter­ests be­fore the com­pa­ny’s.

Payne had his at­tor­ney draft a let­ter in re­sponse to his ouster, al­leg­ing the board had con­spired against him. In par­tic­u­lar, the let­ter said Payne had been pushed out by a ca­bal of four com­pa­ny di­rec­tors, who he says en­gaged in an in­trigue that vi­o­lat­ed the rules es­tab­lished by the Is­raeli laws that gov­ern its op­er­a­tions.

Arc­turus used a re­verse merg­er to back its way on­to the mar­ket last Sep­tem­ber, join­ing forces with Is­rael-based Al­co­bra. The merg­er is be­ing blamed for the sud­den pow­er shift as the root of “the poor cor­po­rate gov­er­nance demon­strat­ed in re­cent months,” Payne’s let­ter not­ed.

Payne fol­lowed that let­ter with de­mands for the com­pa­ny to hold an ex­tra­or­di­nary gen­er­al meet­ing to vote on an ouster of his own de­sign. In the state­ment, he calls for the boot to the four com­pa­ny di­rec­tors who he says con­spired against him — Stu­art Collinson, Craig Wil­lett, Daniel Gef­fken, and David Shapiro. He sug­gest­ed four new di­rec­tors take their place: Mag­da Mar­quet, Pe­ter Far­rell, An­drew Sas­sine, and James Bar­low.

Now, Arc­turus is tak­ing its own shot with a state­ment this morn­ing:

Our unan­i­mous ac­tion to fire Joe was prompt­ed by re­peat­ed in­stances of what the Board con­sid­ered to be poor judge­ment on Joe’s part, in­clud­ing with re­gard to mis­man­age­ment of re­la­tion­ships with our col­lab­o­ra­tion part­ners. Giv­en Joe’s ac­tions, we are con­fi­dent that we made the right de­ci­sion. We be­lieve Joe’s de­ci­sion to ad­vance four nom­i­nees out­side of the Com­pa­ny’s nom­i­nat­ing process is an­oth­er ex­am­ple of him putting his own self-in­ter­ests ahead of the needs of Arc­turus and our share­hold­ers.

Of course, that be­ing said, the com­pa­ny is com­ply­ing with his re­quest.

Con­sis­tent with its com­mit­ment to best-in-class cor­po­rate gov­er­nance prac­tices, the Arc­turus Board has ini­ti­at­ed a process to meet with the pro­posed nom­i­nees and will con­sid­er the nom­i­na­tions in keep­ing with this com­mit­ment.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Frank Zhang (AP Images)

Rocked by cus­toms in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Leg­end's CFO takes over as CEO Frank Zhang placed un­der house ar­rest

When Frank Zhang stepped down from GenScript — the contract research group he’s run for 18 years — to take up the CEO post at its CAR-T focused spinout Legend Biotech, he assured analysts that he was in for the long haul.

Just 49 days later, though, he’s been forced to hand back the title.

In a dramatic turn of events, Legend disclosed that Zhang is under house arrest in China as part of a customs investigation involving GenScript. While he remains the chairman, CFO Ying Huang has been tapped to double as interim CEO.

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UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: #ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Greg Friberg (File photo)

#ES­MO20: Am­gen team nails down sol­id ear­ly ev­i­dence of AMG 510’s po­ten­tial for NSCLC, un­lock­ing the door to a wave of KRAS pro­grams

The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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