Boehringer Ingelheim joins the crowd and goes all-in on oncolytic viruses, buying ViraTherapeutics in $244M deal

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Boehringer Ingelheim decided 3 years ago it that would take an active role in fostering the oncolytics virus biotech ViraTherapeutics.

The German company’s venture arm invested in the fledgling’s biotech’s tiny $4 million A round in the summer of 2015. BI execs came back with a $230 million discovery deal — building in a buyout option — and then added a second program. And this morning they’re going all in, buying the company in a deal valued at $244 million.

BI is keeping the company — a spinout of Austria’s Medical University of Innsbruck — right where it is, adding the group and the regional connections they have on campus as a subsidiary as they look to jump into the clinic with a lead program.

Boehringer first tied up with ViraTherapeutics just months ahead of Amgen’s landmark approval of T-Vec, the world’s first marketed oncolytic virus. And since then the field has exploded with new research projects as dozens of new players brewed up to beat the pioneer.

Earlier this year J&J executed one of its classic billion-dollar deals to buy BeneVir. Merck’s R&D chief Roger Perlmutter — who steered the T-Vec deal at Amgen — bagged Viralytics for $394 million. A recent study from the Cancer Research Institute found 69 OVs in clinical development and another 95 in a preclinical program.

What’s the big deal?

Oncolytic viruses are the Trojan horse of immuno-oncology. The viruses are designed to infect cancer cells, invading the disease, and then exploding them, which subsequently signals the immune system to mount an attack on the survivors. There’s a clear clinical track record showing how they work. And now a host of rivals like PsiOxus and many, many others believe that systemic administration will do a better job.

ViraTherapeutics execs — led by MorphoSys vet Heinz Schwer — have also been busy engineering an OV therapy that they believe can do a better job of initially evading detection by the immune system, avoiding triggering any antibodies and theoretically making it possible to do repeat administrations.

Not surprisingly, BI also plans to whip up a pipeline of combination approaches, arming their OV with cancer drugs that can both amp up the immune system attack and charge directly at cancer cells.

SOURCE: www.endpts.com

AZ, Amgen’s first-in-class asthma drug gets breakthrough status

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AstraZeneca and partner Amgen have picked up a breakthrough designation from the FDA for tezepelumab, a drug that AZ claims could be a “best in disease” therapy for severe asthma.

Tezepelumab is a thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) targeting antibody that would slot into AZ’s key respiratory portfolio alongside Fasenra(benralizumab), the company’s interleukin-5 inhibitor antibody which was approved for severe asthma in Europe in January but just failed a test in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The new candidate is in a phase III programme called PATHFINDER – due to report results from 2020 – and according to AZ chief executive Pascal Soriot has shown remarkable activity in mid-stage testing, reducing several key asthma biomarkers including blood eosinophils, fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FENO) and immunoglobulin levels as well as cutting asthma attacks.

Drugs like Fasenra and GlaxoSmithKline’s rival IL-5 inhibitor Nucala(mepolizumab) have emerged as an important treatment option for people with severe asthma characterised by high levels of eosinophils. However, the FDA’s BTD for tezepelumab is for patients “without an eosinophilic phenotype, who are receiving inhaled corticosteroids/long-acting beta2-agonists with or without oral corticosteroids and additional asthma controllers,” says AZ.

Because it acts further upstream in the inflammatory cascade responsible for asthma, tezepelumab could be suitable for a broader range of patients than Fasenra and Nucala, and also potentially Sanofi and Regeneron’s new candidate Dupixent (dupilumab), an IL-4 and IL-13 inhibitor that is already approved for atopic dermatitis. Dupixent was filed for asthma in the US in March and is due for an FDA verdict by 20 October, but some analysts have said they also expect Dupixent to be used mainly in patients with eosinophilic asthma.

Tezepelumab new status comes on the back of the phase IIb PATHWAY study which showed a significant reduction in the annual asthma exacerbation rate compared with placebo in a broad population of severe asthma patients irrespective of patients’ characteristics at enrolment. Around 10% of all asthma patients are thought to have severe symptoms making them eligible for antibody therapies.

“Tezepelumab is exciting because it has the potential to treat a broad population of severe asthma patients, including those ineligible for currently-approved biologic therapies,” said Sean Bohen, AZ’s chief medical officer.  The BTD “will help us bring tezepelumab to patients as quickly as possible,” he added.

Biologic drugs for asthma are predicted to make several billions of dollars in sales at peak, and there are already signs of string growth for some new products. Nucala made £245m ($317m) in the first six months of the year, with later entrant Fasenra bringing in $86m. Analysts have suggested tezepelumab could be a blockbuster in its own right.

SOURCE: www.pmlive.com/pharma_news

Gilead, Galapagos JAK inhibitor clears phase II test

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A mid-stage trial of Gilead and Galapagos’ JAK1 inhibitor filgotinib has set up a phase III programme for the drug in ankylosing spondylitis as it chases down two already-marketed dugs from Pfizer and Eli Lilly – and a late-stage rival from AbbVie.

In the TORTUGA trial, filgotinib met its clinical objective of reducing disease activity scores compared to placebo in patients with AS, a severe form of arthritis affecting the spine, with more patients achieving the target 20% improvement with the drug (76%) than in the control group (40%).

The drug is also in development for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease with phase III trials already underway in those indications and results due in the coming weeks.

The drug was generally well-tolerated in TORTUGA but one case of deep vein thrombosis gave investors some cause for concern, putting some pressure on Gilead and Galapagos’ share price yesterday before share staged a partial recovery.

DVT is a recognised side effect with Eli Lilly’s JAK1 inhibitor Olumiant(baricitinib), which finally made it to market for rheumatoid arthritis in Europe last year but was rejected in the US at its first filing attempt over the safety issue. Gilead said that in the phase II AS trial the patient had an inherited condition that raised the risk of blood clots and the DVT was not thought to be drug-related.

First-to-market JAK inhibitor Xeljanz (tofacitinib) from Pfizer has already achieved $1bn-plus sales in RA, and with Olumiant somewhat hamstring by the safety issue on its label analysts are viewing the tussle between filgotinib and AbbVie’s upadacitinib as the next big battleground in the JAK inhibitor market.

AbbVie is a little ahead in the race to market, with phase III data in hand showing that upadacitinib is more effective than AbbVie’s $18bn-a-year injectable TNF blocker Humira (adalimumab) in RA when it comes to clinical responses gauged by doctors and patients. Like filgotinib, upadacitinib is also being tested in a string of other indications, including psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and atopic dermatitis.

The rivalry is particularly strong as AbbVie was formerly Gilead’s partner for filgotinib, before ducking out of the collaboration and throwing its weight behind its in-house candidate.

SOURCE: http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news

Six new startups win funding and expert support from Bayer

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Changing the experience of health: that’s the focus of the six startups which the Bayer G4A team has included in the Accelerator program this year.

The young companies came out ahead of more than 1,800 competitors from 100 countries.

They now have 100 days in which to intensively drive the further development of their products and solutions with expertise and investment from Bayer. The company will provide them with offices in Berlin, pharmaceutical executives and industry experts as mentors and EUR 50,000 in funding for each project.

The startups that have applied are developing digital solutions that cover the entire value chain within healthcare. Also this year, a patient jury was asked to rank startups according to the impact that their solutions would have on patient experience.

This year’s winners are:
• Agamon (Israel, GB): A healthcare intelligence platform that can be used to compile and structure health-related data from various sources in order to derive new information. www.agamon.io
• Cyclica (Canada): A cloud platform that aims to use artificial intelligence and biophysics to accelerate drug development. www.cyclicarx.com
• KinAptic (USA): An accelerated learning system for VR stroke rehabilitation using electric stimulation that analyses and detects neural signals to stimulate nerves in stroke patients. www.kinaptic.com
• OME (GB): Personalised health coaching that uses extensive data analyses to compile individualized health programs (nutrition, sleep, physical activity) in order to prevent disease. www.ome.health
• S-There Technologies (Spain): A smart device that analyses health data through urine in the toilet and gives patients insights into their health. https://s-there.com/
• Zencorlabs (Germany): A smartphone software and device that uses artificial intelligence to warn patients of heart failure.

Six years ago, Bayer started cooperating with startups in the healthcare sector through the G4A program headed by Eugene Borukhovich, he said, “It’s incredible to see the tremendous impact that some of our startups have had in the industry. I’m impressed to see the maturity and significance of their innovative solutions. Through the Accelerator program, I’m convinced we will be able to make a significant contribution to truly change the experience of health as we know it. We will continue to put people at the centre of their health and care every single day.”

Dieter Weinand, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and head of the Pharmaceuticals Division commented, “Digital solutions are essential to driving innovation in an evolving healthcare environment. Bayer is seeking to apply them across the pharmaceutical value chain in order to detect diseases at an earlier stage, to develop medicines faster, and to deliver individual treatments with a meaningful outcome for patients. In this endeavour, we benefit immensely from collaborations and the exchange of knowledge and skills with innovative startups.”

SOURCE: www.pharmafield.co.uk/pharma_news

Sartorius and Repligen collaborate on perfusion enabled bioreactors

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Designing the bioreactors to control cell growth, fluid management and cell retention to ultimately simplify the development and cGMP manufacture of biological drugs.

Sartorius Stedim Biotech (SSB) and Repligen Corporation have partnered to integrate Repligen’s XCell ATF cell retention control technology into SSB’s BIOSTAT STR large-scale single-use bioreactors to create novel perfusion-enabled bioreactors.

SSB is an international supplier for the biopharmaceutical industry and Repligen Corporation is a global life sciences company focused on bioprocessing technologies.

Christine Gebski, VP of Product Management at Repligen, said: “We are excited to partner with SSB, a global innovator in bioreactor technology. The integration of our market-leading XCell ATF control technology with SSB’s high-performance bioreactors offers a simplified perfusion-enabled bioreactor solution for end users to develop cell culture processes more quickly and implement perfusion more efficiently.”

As a result of this collaboration, end users will stand to benefit from a single control system for 50–2000 litre bioreactors used in perfusion cell culture applications. This single interface is designed to control cell growth, fluid management and cell retention in continuous and intensified bioprocessing and ultimately, simplify the development and cGMP manufacture of biological drugs.

Through the partnership, SSB and Repligen will further collaborate to equip SSB’s recently launched ambr 250ht perfusion single-use mini bioreactor system with Repligen’s KrosFlo hollow fibre filter technology.

The bioreactor system will be sold by SSB as a complete single-use assembly. This optimal design conserves the hollow fibre filter technology across scales, enabling customers to fast track development and scale up their cell culture perfusion processes.

“Sartorius Stedim Biotech has continuously expanded its integrated upstream portfolio for the past years with a focus on robust and scalable, automated single-use solutions, optimized for high-cell-density applications. The collaboration with Repligen will result in easy-to-implement, high-performance and perfusion-ready bioreactors ranging from process development to commercial manufacturing scale,” commented Stefan Schlack, Head of Marketing at SSB.

SOURCE: www.manufacturingchemist.com/news

Can pharma halt the world’s obesity crisis?

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Major research published in the Lancet this week comes as no surprise, but the findings are still sobering: across the world there are too many people who are not doing enough exercise, putting themselves at risk of diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The research published in Lancet Global Health showed that more than a quarter (1.4 billion) adults are at risk from not doing enough physical activity – these diseases are hugely costly to society and to individuals affected.

The levels of insufficient physical activity varied widely across income groups – 16% in low-income countries, compared with 37% in high-income countries.

And in 55 (33%) of 168 countries, more than a third of the population was insufficiently active according to the figures collated in 2016.

In four countries more than half of adults were insufficiently active – Kuwait (67%), American Samoa (53%), Saudi Arabia (53%) and Iraq (52%).

But the regions with the highest increase in insufficient activity over time were high-income Western countries (from 31% in 2001 to 37% in 2016), and Latin America and the Caribbean (33% to 39%).

Countries from these regions driving this trend include Germany, New Zealand, the USA, Argentina, and Brazil.

Authors also identified several socioeconomic forces at work behind the problem – including urbanisation, sedentary occupations, and motorised transport in the richer countries where lack of exercise is most prevalent.

This research will be of interest to the pharma companies that are attempting to tackle diabetes and obesity related diseases, not just with medications but by working with governments to try and influence policy to reduce incidence of the disease.

Leaders in the field such as Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca are actively campaigning to try and encourage governments to think about how they can encourage people to become more active, and reducing the levels of obesity in society.

With networks of experts in diabetes in countries across the world big pharma companies have realised that there is a huge opportunity to reach out to health systems using corporate social responsibility programmes that aim to tackle the issues outlined in the Lancet research.

For instance Novo has created an initiative entitled “Cities Changing Diabetes” that specifically aims to tackle the problem of “urban diabetes”.

The project involves collecting qualitative and quantitative evidence that could lead to better understanding of the problem and the contributing factors.

It has built up a network of partners across the world, including city leads, city administrations, academia, diabetes associations, health insurances, community centres and business corporations.

So far it has built relations with 16 cities across the world, representing 100 million citizens, including Beirut, Copenhagen, Leicester and Shanghai.

The project is driven by the recognition that the problem with diabetes is only going to get worse unless immediate action is taken.

According to modelling from Novo Nordisk, in order to hold the rise in prevalence at 10%, the world must set itself a target of reducing obesity by 25% by 2045.

Novo organised a Cities Changing Diabetes Summit last year, where it made the call for joint working across sectors and disciplines in order to unite them behind the cause.

Novo has launched an Urban Diabetes Toolbox that gives policy makers tools on how to tackle the problem, including diabetes vulnerability assessment tools, and tips about how to promote healthy living.

AstraZeneca has also been active in this regard, taking part in the multi-year Action in Diabetes initiative and participating in the Global Diabetes Policy Forum in Rome last October.

Now in its third year, the event brought together more than 100 leading global experts in type 2 diabetes care to discuss best practice in policy-making.

Inspired and funded by AstraZeneca, the initiative operates in partnership with the Internatioinal Diabetes Federation, the World Heart Federation, and Primary Care Diabetes Europe, among other organisations.

AstraZeneca’s work aims to demonstrate the interconnectivity between metabolic, cardiovascular, and renal diseases and foster policies that deal with these diseases in an holistic manner.

Eli Lilly is also known for its work in diabetes, and has launched its non-communicable disease partnership with a similar aim.

It has three aims  – piloting new approaches to strengthen diabetes care, advocating to governments for better disease management, and increasing appropriate use of and compliance with medicines to improve outcomes.

The scale of the problem is daunting, but pharma’s focus on raising awareness about the issue, and bringing different stakeholders together towards the common goal of reducing obesity is an example of how industry can help to tackle one of the major social problems of our times.

SOURCE: www.pharmaphorum.com/views-and-analysis

NICE U-turn on Crystiva for rare bone disease

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Reversing its initial decision to reject the drug, NICE has issued a positive recommendation for Kyowa Kirin’s rare disease drug Crystiva, the first treatment approved to target the underlying pathophysiology of X-Linked Hypophosphataemia (XLH).

The U-turn is good news for the Japan company, which negotiated on the price of the treatment behind closed doors after the NICE’s  conclusion that the drug wasn’t cost effective.

the UK’s cost-effectiveness watchdog is now set to recommend the twice-monthly injection for the treatment of XLH in children and young people with growing bones, with final guidance expected in October.

Tom Stratford, CEO, Kyowa Kirin International said: It is a major development that NICE has recommended Crysvita for routine use among children and young people with XLH in England and Wales.

“This marks a step change in treatment for XLH, emphasised through the emotional testimonies provided by patient groups and clinicians following the first evaluation consultation.”

Characterised by bowed or bent legs, a short stature, bone pain and delayed walking, XLH is first seen in infants but can also affect adults.

It is caused by low levels of phosphate in the blood, resulting in life-long physical disabilities.

Until now, treating this disease has consisted of multiple daily doses of phosphate and vitamin D to counteract the effects of FGF23, a protein that when produced excessively, reduces renal phosphates in the blood.

Crysvita targets this pathway by blocking the activity of FGF23, restoring phosphate blood levels by reducing phosphate loss via the kidneys.

Commenting on NICE’s decision, Oliver Gardiner, Board Member at XLH UK, said: “This is important news for children and young adults with XLH who will now be able to benefit from Crysvita routinely on the NHS.

“Access to a treatment that tackles the underlying mechanism and has the potential to avoid or mitigate substantial physical and emotional challenges, will truly make a difference to the lives of patients and their families.”

Crysvita was already accessible to patients under the NHS via the UK’s early access programme, which will be extended to allow time for NHS England to implement NICE’s final guidance.

SOURCE: www.pmlive.com/pharma_news

Agios names former Celgene executive Jacqualyn Fouse as next CEO

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Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc on Tuesday said former Celgene Corp executive Jacqualyn Fouse would be its next chief executive officer, replacing longtime CEO David Schenkein.

Fouse, who rose through the ranks at Celgene to become president and chief operating officer before leaving the biotech company last year, is already a member of the Agios board. She will assume her new role on Feb. 1, 2019, the company said.

Schenkein, who took over as Agios CEO in 2009, will transition to the role of executive chairman and serve on the board’s Science & Technology Committee, the biotech said.

Schenkein led Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Agios from a research company to a $4.68 billion drugmaker with two approved cancer medicines.

Fouse is highly regarded by Wall Street and her name has been bandied about with each high profile executive opening in the biotech industry since her June 2017 “retirement” from Celgene. She also previously served as chief financial officer of food company Bunge Limited.

She said she intends to focus on existing drug candidates in development, as well as strategies for expansion in markets outside the United States, Fouse told Reuters in an interview.

Fouse, who led various divisions at Celgene before becoming president and COO, joined the Agios board last December. Agios has an oncology development deal with Celgene.

Agios in July received U.S. approval for Tibsovo to treat acute myeloid leukemia in patients with a specific genetic mutation. It is the company’s first wholly owned drug. Its first approved leukemia treatment, Idhifa, was partnered with Celgene.

Agios shares have risen 39 percent since the start of the year.

SOURCE: www.uk.reuters.com/article/agios-ceo

Novartis’ CAR T therapy Kymriah to become available on the NHS

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Novartis’ Kymriah is set to become the first CAR T therapy to become available on the NHS after it was revealed that the cancer treatment will be offered to children and young adults up to the age of 25 years old with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) that is refractory, in relapse post-transplant or in second or later relapse.

While both Gilead and Novartis’ CAR T therapy were awarded marketing authorisation in the European Union just last week, NICE were quick to reject Gilead’s CAR T therapy Yescarta on the grounds that it was too expensive.

However Novartis’ one time cancer treatment is now set to become available through the UK’s national healthcare system.

Mari Scheiffele, Novartis Oncology General Manager, UK & Ireland, said: “This decision to make our revolutionary CAR-T therapy, Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) available so soon after being licensed is the result of our close collaboration with NHS England and NICE, with flexibility shown by all parties to ensure young patients can access this life-saving treatment as quickly as possible.”

The custom made treatment, which uses an individual’s own immune cells to combat cancer, has the potential to extend survival and significantly improve quality of life for children and young adults whose prognosis is poor.

However the cancer therapy comes with a high price tag, costing $475,000 in the United States. Meanwhile the list price for Gilead’s alternative Yescarta is just $373,000 in the US. Nevertheless the price that has been negotiated between Novartis and NICE will be kept confidential.

SOURCE: www.pharmafile.com/news/518554

Discovery could lead to higher immunotherapy response rates for bladder cancer patients

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Mount Sinai researchers have discovered that a particular type of cell present in bladder cancer may be the reason why so many patients do not respond to the groundbreaking class of drugs known as PD-1 and PD-L1 immune checkpoint inhibitors, which enable the immune system to attack tumors.

In a study published in August in Nature Communications, the Mount Sinai team reported that stromal cells, a subset of connective tissue cells often found in the tumor environment, may be preventing immune cells known as T-cells from seeking out and destroying the invading cancer. The researchers showed that expression of a set of genes that are typically linked to more aggressive cancers was actually more commonly linked to stromal cells rather than bladder cancer cells themselves. They also showed that tumors with increased expression of these genes, known as epithelial mesenchymal transition genes, did not respond well to immune checkpoint inhibitors. The researchers also found that in such tumors, T-cells were more likely to be separated from cancer cells by the stromal cells, suggesting that the stromal cells may be hindering the ability of the immune cells to reach and eradicate the cancer cells.

“Some bladder cancers may not respond to immunotherapy, even though the body has developed an immune response against them, because the T-cells are prevented from reaching the tumor by stromal cells that create an inhospitable ‘neighborhood,'” said Matthew Galsky, MD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and senior author of the study.

Dr. Galsky and his colleagues are now trying to validate the gene expression identified in their study as a biomarker that could help refine clinical trials and treatment in the future by predicting the level of response or resistance to PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. In addition, according to Dr. Galsky, the group is identifying ways to “counteract the negative impact of the stromal cells and make that neighborhood more friendly to immune cells so they can finish their job.”

Since they were made available to patients about four years ago, immune checkpoint inhibitors have changed the treatment landscape for many types of cancer, particularly metastatic bladder cancer, which had gone several decades without significant therapeutic advances. While five different PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors have since been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, responses are achieved in only 15 percent to 25 percent of patients. Cancer researchers have turned their attention to attempting to learn why and, more specifically, to discovering ways to increase the proportion of patients with positive results.

The Mount Sinai team used several data sets for their study, including genomic data from The Cancer Genome Atlas’ bladder cancer dataset from the National Cancer Institute. In addition, in collaboration with researchers from Bristol-Myers Squibb, they demonstrated the potential clinical relevance of their findings in a large clinical trial dataset derived from patients with metastatic bladder cancer treated with the PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab.

“Our biologists and biostatisticians were able to harness ‘big data’ to generate valuable insights into responses and resistance to PD-1 therapies,” noted study co-author Jun Zhu, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Head of Data Sciences at Sema4, a Mount Sinai venture. “We strongly believe those results will inform future studies at Mount Sinai and elsewhere.”

Dr. Galsky added, “What our group has done is add another important piece to a larger jigsaw puzzle about why PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors don’t work in some patients. Through our work we have supported and extended important observations made by other researchers, and this makes us more confident than ever that we are on the right track to addressing a huge unmet need for patients with bladder cancer.”

Explore further: Simultaneous chemo and immunotherapy may be better for some with metastatic bladder cancer

SOURCE: www.medicalxpress.com/news