Six Life Sciences Successes and Failures To Kick Off 2021

Success and Failure

The year is off to a hopeful start for some companies, executives and scientists, while others are forced to fold programs and recalibrate. Here are just a few of the week’s top examples so far. 

No More Haven for Healthcare:

On Monday, a joint venture launched early in 2018 by Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway, which aimed to lower U.S. healthcare costs, announced that it was disbanding. 

The objective of the company, Haven Healthcare, founded by Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, and Warren Buffet, was to provide “better, more convenient healthcare at a lower price” to the workers and families at each company, with the idea that the formula would be expanded to other corporations.

"In the past three years, Haven explored a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloted new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable," Haven said in a statement on its website. "Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of their own employee populations.

The company added that it would end independent operations at the end of February, 2021.

It is a poignant comment on the complicated nature of the U.S. healthcare system that these three foremost American entrepreneurs have been unable to find a way to solve it. 

Life Sciences Real Estate Giant Loses Long-Time Exec

Alexandria Real Estate Equities will begin 2021 without its longtime leader. Former co-president and Regional Market Director of Greater Boston, Thomas Andrews, submitted his resignation on December 30th

Andrews’ decision was due to “personal reasons” according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing posted on Monday. He will be succeeded by former Alexandria Strategic Market Director, Hunter Kass. 

The move appeared to be without warning as Andrews had been named president of NAIOP Massachusetts for 2021 just weeks before stepping down from his positions at Alexandria. The trade association confirmed that Andrews will honor this commitment leading its local chapter.

Andrews, who had been with the company since 1999, leaves after playing a key leadership role in Alexandria’s ascension to the top of the premier Cambridge-Boston life sciences market. 

New Class of Antibodies at Work Against Bacteria

Scientists at The Wistar Institute have discovered a new class of compounds with ubiquitous killing power against pan drug-resistant bacterial pathogens and the ability to incite a rapid immune response for combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

This new class of antibodies could provide a significant weapon against AMR, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated as one of the top 10 global public health threats against humanity. 

“We took a creative, double-pronged strategy to develop new molecules that can kill difficult-to-treat infections while enhancing the natural host immune response," said Farokh Dotiwala, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at the Wistar Institute. "We reasoned that harnessing the immune system to simultaneously attack bacteria on two different fronts makes it hard for them to develop resistance," Dotiwala said.

The approach centers on a metabolic pathway called methyl-D-erythritol phosphate (MEP), which is essential for most bacteria but absent in humans, making it an ideal target for antibiotic development.

Complete findings from this study were originally published in Nature on December 23.

Evotec Cashes in $6M under BMS Neurodegeneration Deal

German biotech, Evotec AG, achieved a $6 million USD milestone as part of its iPSC-based neuroscience partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb.

The payment was triggered in late 2020 when Evotec added a new drug discovery project to the pair’s joint portfolio. The collaboration was initially launched by Celgene (now BMS) in 2016 to identify disease-modifying treatments for a broad range of neurodegenerative diseases. 

Beginning with a focus on Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, the partnership aims to build on several of Evotec’s unique technology platforms, along with its human iPSC-based platform, which is one of the largest and most sophisticated in the industry. The duo has already identified several access points into neurodegenerative diseases, as well as a broad portfolio targeting key disease mechanisms in neurodegeneration.

“We are very excited about this most recent expansion of our joint project portfolio which further validates our iPSC-based approach within our strategic neuroscience partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb. Our partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb is driven by the firm belief that iPSC-based approaches will deliver more disease-relevant drug candidates which will have a better chance to deliver safe and effective drugs than traditional approaches,” said Evotec Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Cord Dohrmann.

Promising News for BioXcel Therapeutics in Alzheimer’s

BioXcel announced today that BXCL501 met the primary and secondary endpoints in its TRANQUILITY Phase 1/2b study for the acute treatment of agitation in dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Connecticut-based BioXcel is a clinical-stage biopharma company identifying improved therapies in neuroscience and immuno-oncology using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

When dosed at 60 mcg to 54 patients living in assisted living facilities, BXCL501, the company’s proprietary, orally dissolving thin film formulation of dexmedetomidine, met the primary safety and tolerability endpoints, reporting no severe or serious adverse events.

“We are very encouraged by the promising topline results from the TRANQUILITY study, which was designed to identify a recommended dose of BXCL501 for a potential pivotal study in dementia patients suffering from agitation. Following decades of research, there are still no effective treatments that directly target agitation commonly seen with dementia patients, and we are thrilled by the potential of being the first to develop a therapy designed to address this significant patient and caregiver need,” said BioXcel Chief Executive Officer, Vimal Mehta. “Based on the results observed, we believe BXCL501 has broad potential in treating the full spectrum of agitation in patients with dementia. We look forward to advancing BXCL501 into a late-stage study this year following dialogue with the FDA.”

BXCL501 has the potential for a broad range of therapeutic applications. In early December, BioXcel announced a grant by the U.S. Department of Defense to study the drug in patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to alcohol and substance abuse. 

Millendo Therapeutics’ NK3R Antagonist Fails in Phase I

The news was not as good for another clinical-stage biopharma company, Millendo Therapeutics, which announced today that it will halt investment in its selective neurokinin 3 receptor (NK3R) antagonist, MLE-301, intended for the treatment of menopausal vasomotor symptoms (VMS).

MLE-301 was meant to work against NK3R, a significant regulator of the activity of KNDy neurons, which have been shown to contribute to VMS, more commonly known as hot flashes and night sweats.

The decision to not move forward was made based on pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data from the ongoing single ascending dose portion of Millendo’s Phase I study of MLE-301 in VMS and its overall comparison in a highly competitive NK3R antagonist market.

"We would like to acknowledge and thank all of our employees for their hard work in supporting Millendo’s mission of pursuing novel therapies to alleviate patient suffering due to endocrine diseases. The Board has continued to support the Company’s ongoing plans and execution efforts; however, at this time the Board believes that it is in the best interest of the Company and its shareholders to actively seek a broad range of strategic alternatives, including a sale or merger of the Company in order to maximize shareholder value,” said Carol Gallagher, Chairman of the Board.

Millendo will review its operating costs, and a workforce reduction may be necessary to allow the company to focus its resources on essential business activities.

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