The Week in Review: A Look at Some of the Top Biopharma Stories

Biotechnology News

Just about every week has plenty of exciting news in the biopharmaceutical industry, and this week was no different. Here’s a brief look back at some of our top stories.

Leena Gandhi, currently the director of Thoracic Medical Oncology and an associate professor of medicine at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine will join Eli Lilly and Company to head its immuno-oncology medical development program. She will report to Kimberly Blackwell, vice president of Early Phase Development and Immuno-oncology.

Pfizer launched a new ad that celebrates diversity in its employment. Part of its “Driven to Discovery” efforts, the new video opens with a mother waking up to her mixed-race child jumping on the bed, to two men eating breakfast, and a woman in a hijab heading to work. The ad is made up of actual Pfizer scientists, and is both a recruitment tool and a branding effort.

Gilead Sciences and Verily Life Sciences, a Google/Alphabet company, have teamed up to focus on three inflammatory diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus-related diseases. The two companies will use Verily’s Immunoscape platform, which combines immunogenomic phenotyping and advanced computational analysis to profile the molecular characteristics of inflammatory diseases. The collaboration is planned to last three years.

Karyopharm Therapeutics, located in Newton, Massachusetts, announced it will seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its investigational drug selinexor after strong top-line results in a Phase IIb clinical trial. The company also plans to submit for regulatory approval in Europe in early 2019. The drug has Fast Track designation and Orphan Drug designation in multiple myeloma.

Aaron Traywick, the 28-year-old chief executive officer of Ascendance Biotechnology, died Sunday in Washington, DC in a sensory deprivation tank. He was notable as a biohacker who injected himself with an alleged experimental herpes vaccine before a BDYHAX biohacker conference in February. Although the Internet is rife with conspiracy theories, including that his death was at the hands of a government assassin (or big pharma), cause of death has yet to be determined.

Janssen Biotech, a Johnson & Johnson company, is buying Rockville, Maryland-based BeneVir Bipharm, a subsidiary of HC2, in a deal worth more than $1 billion. It cut the deal in part to acquire BeneVir’s proprietary T-Stealth Oncolytic Virus Platform that can be used to create oncolytic viruses to infect and kill cancer cells.

Paris-based Sanofi and Tarrytown, New York-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals cut a deal with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts for their Praluent (alirocumab) for hard-to-treat high cholesterol. Express Scripts is making Praluent its exclusive PCSK9 inhibitor on its national formulary, essentially locking Amgen’s Repatha out of that market segment.

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has decided to divide into two independent companies. They will be called Ironwood and what is currently being called R&D Co. The split is designed to separate the company’s soluble guanlylate cyclase (sGC) business from its commercial and gastrointestinal business.

Bristol-Myers Squibb expanded its relationship with Flatiron Health for another three years. Swiss-based Roche acquired Flatiron in February for $1.9 billion. Bristol-Myers and Flatiron will use Flatiron’s real-world data to push the company’s oncology research-and-development efforts. In addition, Bristol-Myers Squibb indicated it was ending two of several ongoing Phase III clinical trials of the IDO1 inhibitor it acquired in 2015 from Flexus Biosciences. Although specific reasons for abandoning them weren’t forthcoming, many analysts believe it is related to the recent failure of Incyte and Merck’s own IDO1 inhibitor epacadostat, which was being evaluated with Merck’s Keytruda in unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

An advisory committee for the FDA offered a split decision on Achaogen’s application for its lead antibiotic plazomicin for adults with complicated urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections. The panel voted unanimously in favor of the evidence supporting the drug’s safety and effectiveness in urinary tract infections. But they voted overwhelmingly against the drug over safety and effectiveness concerns for the treatment of bloodstream infections.

Casma Therapeutics launched in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a Series A round totaling $58.5 million. The company was solely funded by Third Rock Ventures. It will focus on a natural cell process called autophagy, where abnormal proteins or other materials in the cells are broken down and used as an energy source or as building blocks for new structures. If autophagy functions abnormally, the materials accumulate, which causes a cascade of potential problems linked to numerous diseases.

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