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Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Chris Gibson (Photo By Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion founders gin for­tunes as IPO back­ers show­er $436M on one of the biggest boasts in AI -- based on some very small deals

In the AI drug development world, boasting often comes with the territory. Yet few can rival Recursion when it comes to claiming the lead role in what company execs like to call the industrialization of drug development, with promises of continued exponential growth in the number of drugs it has in the pipeline.

On Friday, the Salt Lake City-based biotech translated its unicorn-sized boasts into a killer IPO, pricing more than 24 million shares at the high end of its range and bringing in $436 million — with a large chunk of that promised by some deep-pocket backers.

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UP­DAT­ED: New Kaiser analy­sis shows how lim­it­ing price ne­go­ti­a­tions to tar­get­ed drugs may bet­ter fo­cus up­com­ing leg­is­la­tion

As Congress considers whether to adopt sweeping new legislation to lower prescription drug prices across the board, the Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a new report on Monday showing how a more targeted approach on a subset of drugs might be a more efficient way to save government funds.

“This analysis shows that Medicare Part D and Part B spending is highly concentrated among a relatively small share of covered drugs, mainly those without generic or biosimilar competitors,” wrote Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the program on Medicare policy at KFF, and Tricia Neuman, SVP of KFF. “Focusing drug price negotiation or reference pricing on a subset of drugs that account for a disproportionate share of spending would be an efficient use of administrative resources, though it would also leave some potential savings on the table.”

Jami Rubin (EQRx)

Ja­mi Ru­bin, once fa­bled for grilling bio­phar­ma ex­ecs, de­camps to head fi­nance at drug pric­ing dis­rupter

As Goldman Sachs’ top pharmaceutical analyst, Jami Rubin was known for asking the tough questions. Now, as she takes the lead on EQRx’s mission to rewrite the rules of drug pricing, we’ll see how good her answers are.

Rubin made the jump to biotech on April 5, becoming EQRx’s new CFO, the company said Monday. She’s coming from PJT Partners, where she’s been a partner providing strategic guidance for biotech and pharmaceutical companies for the last couple years. With EQRx’s recent $500 million Series B round in the books, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she was already lining up a public debut.

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Ben Carson (Evan Vucci, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED The doc­tor is in: Trump in­sid­er Ben Car­son joins NASH play­er Galectin as a 'spe­cial con­sul­tant,' part-time spokesman

In the few short months since President Donald Trump left office, his former department heads are reportedly having a difficult time finding employment. But for Ben Carson, Trump’s former housing secretary, that’s not a problem anymore after biotech came calling.

Carson, a former GOP presidential candidate and erstwhile HUD head, has joined Galectin Therapeutics as a “special consultant” the biotech hopes will help raise its profile and provide an entrée to key business partnerships, the company said Monday.

FDA lays the ham­mer on Emer­gen­t's Bal­ti­more plant af­ter J&J de­ba­cle, halt­ing all pro­duc­tion in un­usu­al move

Emergent BioSolutions has had a tough month: First, the CDMO ruined 15 million doses of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine in March and then suffered the ignominy of the FDA seizing the reins. Now, as the agency receives a full accounting of the site’s problems, Emergent has slammed the brakes on all production at the FDA’s behest.

Emergent will cease manufacturing at its Baltimore plant until the FDA’s inspection and remediation of any findings is complete, the company said in a statement. Emergent will also quarantine existing materials that have already been manufactured. That stoppage started on Friday, four days after the initiation of the FDA’s inspection.

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Ovid cuts its loss­es on con­tro­ver­sial An­gel­man syn­drome drug, mak­ing its crush­ing de­vel­op­ment halt per­ma­nent

After a turbulent couple of years, Ovid is officially doing away with a program it had once championed in the face of heavy analyst skepticism.

Ovid has discontinued development of OV101, or gaboxadol, in Angelman syndrome and will not pursue further clinical trials for Fragile X syndrome, the company announced Monday morning. The news comes after Ovid had previously paused development in Angelman when the compound flunked a Phase III trial in December.

FDA slaps a hold on Mof­fitt’s next-gen CAR-T as reg­u­la­tors de­mand an­oth­er de­lay on clin­i­cal work — shares crater

Close to a year-and-a-half after tapping the brakes on one of its preclinical programs to do some added genetic engineering work on their next-gen CAR-T, Anixa $ANIX Therapeutics says the regulatory light is flashing red on their IND.

The San Jose, CA-based biotech — which changed its name from ITUS in 2018 — explained in late 2019 that they were taking a knee for at least a year so that researchers could go back and amp up the expression of follicle stimulating hormone on T cells to improve targeting of the FSH receptor on a specific set of ovarian cells. That required new vector engineering work by their partners at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross' Covid-19 an­ti­body moon­shot scores $336M with the help of new ace CFO. Is an IPO next?

Less than a year into its existence, serial biotech entrepreneur Tillman Gerngross’ antibody play Adagio has raced ahead into a pivotal trial for its lead drug for Covid-19 on the back of some very promising preclinical data. Now, crossover investors led by Peter Kolchinsky at RA are rolling up the Brinks truck — and that could spell an IPO in the offing for Adagio.

Adagio has bagged $336 million as part of a Series C round led by RA Capital to advance lead single-shot antibody ADG20 through a pivotal Phase I/II/III trial for the treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 patients at high risk of infection, the biotech said Monday.

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