Merck to spin off women’s health and biosimilar drug businesses

The Globe and Mail | February 05, 2020

Merck to spin off women’s health and biosimilar drug businesses
Merck & Co Inc said on Wednesday it will spin off its women’s health, biosimilar drugs and older products into a separate publicly traded company as it tightens its focus on growth drivers like cancer drug Keytruda and vaccines. The new company’s assets currently make up around 15 per cent of Merck’s total sales and around half of its drugs that treat people. Merck will retain its animal health business, as well as drugs used for acute care in hospitals such as Bridion, which reverses the effects of anesthesia. Merck shares fell 3.7 per cent to $85.12 after the U.S. drugmaker also reported quarterly Keytruda sales below Wall Street’s lofty estimates. The spinoff is a culmination of the drugmaker’s strategy of concentrating on a few key areas, particularly oncology, where Merck has turned the immunotherapy Keytruda into one of the world’s top selling drugs, Merck Chief Executive Ken Frazier said in an interview.

Spotlight

A biosimilar co-developed by generics giant Mylan and Indian biopharmaceutical company Biocon (NSE: BIOCON) is as effective in treating HER2 metastatic breast cancer as Herceptin (trastuzumab), according to the results of a Phase III clinical trial.


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PHARMA TECH

n-Lorem Foundation Partners with Alnylam to Expand Technology Access to RNAi Therapeutics for Patients with Nano-rare Diseases

n-Lorem a nonprofit Foundation | January 20, 2022

n-Lorem, a nonprofit Foundation, discovering and providing experimental antisense oligonucleotide medicines to nano-rare disease patients for free, for life, today announced a new partnership with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. “Discovering, developing and providing individualized medicines for nano-rare patients is a monumental task. At n-Lorem, using ASO technology, we take advantage of three decades of experience, unparalleled quality control and integrated safety databases that are used to select frequency and dosage for each individual ASO therapy. As we expand our highly selective and versatile model to other amendable technologies, it is important for us to maintain a high level of quality,” said Stanley T. Crooke, M.D., Ph.D., Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, n-Lorem Foundation. “Alnylam’s RNAi therapeutic technology is the perfect complement to Ionis’ ASO technology, both are well understood, proven drug discovery technologies. Adding Alnylam as a partner is another step in the creation of a broad network of partner stakeholders committed to treating nano-rare patients.” “We are pleased to partner with the n-Lorem Foundation in identifying opportunities to bring our novel RNAi technology platform to potentially help patients with nano-rare diseases. At Alnylam, we are committed to identifying pathways to expand access to our medicines and we applaud the work of the foundation in bringing together industry partners who are driven to provide options for patients that have little or no options for treatment,” Akshay Vaishnaw, M.D., Ph.D., President at Alnylam “Although we have the tools and expertise to understand nano-rare patients at a genetic level, the extreme rarity of these patients present insurmountable challenges to the current healthcare systems,” said Dr. Sarah Glass, Chief Development Officer, n-Lorem Foundation. “n-Lorem is addressing these challenges one nano-rare patient at a time and is supported through a consortium of well-renowned and diverse organizations worldwide. These include our biotechnology and pharmaceutical partners, including Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Biogen, Ultragenyx and today Alnylam; our clinical research partners, including Charles River Labs, Korea Institute of Toxicology and Parexel; our contract manufacturing partners, including ChemGenes, Cytiva and Nitto Avecia; and many other collaborations that make n-Lorem’s mission possible.” Alnylam is leading the translation of RNA interference into a whole new class of innovative medicines with the potential to transform the lives of people afflicted with rare genetic, cardio-metabolic, hepatic infectious, and central nervous system ocular diseases. Based on Nobel Prize-winning science, RNAi therapeutics represent a powerful, clinically validated approach for the treatment of a wide range of severe and debilitating diseases. Founded in 2002, Alnylam is delivering on a bold vision to turn scientific possibility into reality, with a robust RNAi therapeutics platform. Alnylam’s commercial RNAi therapeutic products are ONPATTRO®, GIVLAARI® (givosiran), and OXLUMO®, as well as Leqvio®, which is being developed and commercialized by Alnylam’s partner Novartis. Alnylam has a deep pipeline of investigational medicines, including six product candidates that are in late-stage development. Alnylam is executing on its “Alnylam P5x25” strategy to deliver transformative medicines in both rare and common diseases benefiting patients around the world through sustainable innovation and exceptional financial performance, resulting in a leading biotech profile. Alnylam is headquartered in Cambridge, MA. About n-Lorem n-Lorem Foundation is a non-profit organization established to apply the efficiency, versatility and specificity of antisense technology to charitably provide experimental antisense oligonucleotide medicines to treat nano-rare patients diagnosed with diseases that are the result of a single genetic defect unique to only one or very few individuals. Nano-rare patients describe a very small group of patients who, because of their small numbers, have few if any treatment options. n-Lorem Foundation was created to provide hope to these nano-rare patients by developing individualized ASO medicines, which are short strands of modified DNA that can specifically target the transcripts of a defective gene to correct the abnormality. The advantage of experimental ASO medicines is that they can be developed rapidly, inexpensively and are highly specific. To date, n-Lorem has assisted in the development and treatment of 14 nano-rare patients and received over 100 applications for treatment with more than 40 nano-rare patients approved. n-Lorem was founded by Stanley T. Crooke, M.D., Ph.D., former chairman and CEO of Ionis Pharmaceuticals, who founded Ionis Pharmaceuticals in 1989 and, through his vision and leadership, established the company as the leader in RNA-targeted therapeutics.

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BUSINESS INSIGHTS

Cullinan Oncology Forms Strategic Collaboration Agreement with Mount Sinai to Advance Oral HPK1 Protein Degrader for Cancer Treatment

Cullinan Oncology, Inc. | January 10, 2022

Cullinan Oncology, Inc. a biopharmaceutical company focused on developing a diversified pipeline of targeted therapies for cancer patients, today announced the Company has entered into a collaboration agreement with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to develop novel small molecule immune modulators.​ This exclusive option and multi-year collaboration agreement will be focused on the optimization and development of oral protein degraders targeting hematopoietic progenitor kinase 1 (HPK1), a key regulator of immune cell activation and a high-priority target in immune-oncology. The collaboration aims to accelerate the development of novel, best-in-class HPK1 degraders that stimulate robust anti-tumor immunity. The research will be conducted by leading scientists at both Cullinan and Icahn Mount Sinai. Cullinan will fund the collaboration and has an exclusive option to license the intellectual property for further development and commercialization. The Icahn Mount Sinai team will be co-led by Steven J. Burakoff, M.D., Lillian and Henry M. Stratton Professor of Cancer Medicine, Dean for Cancer Innovation, and Chief, Pediatric Oncology at Icahn Mount Sinai, and Jian Jin, Ph.D., Mount Sinai Professor in Therapeutics Discovery and Director, Mount Sinai Center for Therapeutics Discovery, at Icahn Mount Sinai. “Our team is excited to work with the talented and experienced cancer drug developers at Cullinan. Our research has already demonstrated that a degrader approach to targeting HPK1 may control tumor growth more effectively compared to simply inhibiting HPK1 kinase activity. We believe this collaboration will help us identify novel, differentiated oral HPK1 degraders and can bring future benefit to cancer patients worldwide.” Dr. Jin “We are proud to partner with Icahn Mount Sinai, which is at the forefront of cancer research and patient care,” said Leigh Zawel, Chief Scientific Officer, Small Molecules, of Cullinan Oncology. “We are very excited to build on the synergy between the deep scientific expertise of the Icahn Mount Sinai team and the strong drug development capabilities at Cullinan to advance therapies that have the potential to significantly improve the lives of patients with cancer. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration in this novel area of science.” About Cullinan Oncology Cullinan Oncology is a biopharmaceutical company that is developing a diversified pipeline of targeted therapeutic candidates across multiple modalities in order to bring important medicines to cancer patients. The Company’s strategy is to source innovation through both internal discovery efforts and external collaborations, focusing on advanced stage assets with novel technology platforms and differentiated mechanisms.

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PHARMACY MARKET

CASI PHARMACEUTICALS ANNOUNCES CNCT19 (CD19 CAR-T) GRANTED ORPHAN DRUG DESIGNATION BY THE U.S. FDA

CASI Pharmaceuticals, Inc. | January 19, 2022

CASI Pharmaceuticals, Inc. a U.S. biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing innovative therapeutics and pharmaceutical products, announced today, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as granted Orphan Drug Designation for CNCT19, an investigational CD-19 directed CAR-T therapy, for the treatment of patients with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. CNCT19 is currently being developed independently by Juventas to meet the urgent clinical needs of patients with hematologic malignancies globally. The National Medical Products Administration has granted CTA approval for CNCT19 in two indications in Nov. 2019. Currently, the Phase II clinical trials of CNCT19 are in progress. Positive clinical data for adult and pediatric patients with relapsed/refractory B-ALL has been presented at the December 2021 ASH annual meeting, which further demonstrated its safety and efficacy profile. CNCT 19 is expected to be the first domestic CD19 directed CAR-T product in China with independent intellectual property rights. "Our partner Juventas continues to make encouraging progress in developing their CD19 CAR-T therapy. The Orphan Drug Designation, from the FDA, and the Breakthrough Designation status, granted by the China Center of Drug Evaluation (CDE) in December 2020, represent significant milestones that demonstrate our belief that CNCT19's commercialization will not only be successful in China, but potentially on a global scale. CASI has worldwide co-commercial rights of CNCT19, and will start the global commercialization process according to CNCT19's regulatory progress outside China." Dr. Wei-Wu He, CASI's Chairman, and CEO About Juventas Juventas is a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in China dedicated to the development and commercialization of cell therapies globally. Utilizing innovative and integrated technology platforms, the company has developed a diverse pipeline of cellular immunotherapies for treatment of hematological malignancies, solid tumors, and other non-oncological conditions both in China and globally. At present, the company is conducting two pivotal clinical trials of CNCT19 for treating adult r/r-B-ALL and r/r-B-NHL in China. CNCT19 has the potential to become the first launched domestically developed CD19 CAR-T therapy in China and the first CAR-T product for the treatment of adult R/R B-ALL in China. About CASI Pharmaceuticals CASI Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is a U.S. biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing innovative therapeutics and pharmaceutical products in China, the United States, and throughout the world. The Company is focused on acquiring, developing and commercializing products that augment its hematology oncology therapeutic focus as well as other areas of unmet medical need. The Company intends to execute its plan to become a leader by launching medicines in the greater China market leveraging the Company's China-based regulatory and commercial competencies and its global drug development expertise. The Company's operations in China are conducted through its wholly-owned subsidiary, CASI Pharmaceuticals (China) Co., Ltd., which is located in Beijing, China. The Company has built a commercial team of more than 100 hematology oncology sales and marketing specialists based in China.

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RESEARCH

DEBIOPHARM INVESTS IN VERISIM LIFE'S $15M SERIES A ROUND TO ADVANCE AI-ENABLED DRUG RESEARCH

Debiopharm International SA | January 11, 2022

Debiopharm a Swiss biopharmaceutical company, announced their co-investment in California-based start-up VeriSIM Life's $15 Million Series A Round to advance their mission to accelerate drug development via technology powered by artificial intelligence. VeriSIM Life's computational platform reduces time and cost of drug development as well as reduces the need for animal testing that, in the vast majority of cases, does not translate well to humans. Debiopharm's co-investment in VeriSIM contributes to the growth plan of the start-up and will help to expand and establish transformational partnerships with industry and academia using their first-in-class 'virtual drug development engine' BIOiSIM™. The investment aligns with Debiopharm's focus to invest in digital health solutions that improve the cancer patient journey, transform pharmaceutical R&D, and shift healthcare towards a more patient-centric approach. With the financing round led by Morpheus Ventures, Debiopharm Innovation Fund joins new investors including Colorcon Ventures along with existing investors OCA Ventures, Intel Capital, Serra Ventures and Susa Ventures. Founded in 2017 by Jo Varshney, DVM and PhD alongside a cross-functional team of pharmaceutical scientists, software engineers and AI/ML and simulation experts, the start-up offers a range of translational-based solutions, customized for pre-clinical and clinical programs. "We're moving into a time where AI-based technology will play a critical role in drug development. We absolutely need to reduce the time, costs & risks of drug development in order to be more efficient – that's exactly what the BIOiSIM™ is proven to do. The value of using this AI-based platform is the potential decrease in the need for animal testing and the acceleration of the pre-clinical, translational stage, helping drug research companies to more quickly select which early-stage medicines will most likely benefit patients and cure their disease." Tanja Dowe, CEO of the Debiopharm Innovation Fund More than 90% of drugs tested in animals fail to pass human clinical trials, resulting in delayed development and high costs. VeriSIM's BIOiSIM platform, driven by AI and machine learning (ML), de-risks R&D decisions by providing meaningful insights much earlier in the drug development process with unprecedented accuracy and scalability. VeriSIM's platform solves this decade-old translatability problem within the drug development phase and ensures clinical success of drugs intended for highly unmet needs. With its first-in-class platform, VeriSIM is transforming the way pharmaceutical and biotech companies address the most challenging diseases impacting humankind. About VeriSIM Life VeriSIM Life has developed a sophisticated computational platform that leverages advanced AI and ML techniques to significantly improve drug discovery and development by greatly reducing the time and money it takes to bring a drug to market. BIOiSIM is a first-in-class 'virtual drug development engine' that offers unprecedented value for the drug development industry by narrowing down the number of drug compounds that offer anticipated value for the treatment or cure of specific illnesses or diseases. The program not only reduces the time and cost of drug discovery and development, it also greatly reduces the need for animal testing that, in the vast majority of cases, does not translate to humans. Debiopharm's commitment to patients Debiopharm develops, manufactures and invests in innovative therapies and technologies that respond to high unmet medical needs in oncology and bacterial infections. We aim to provide strategic funding and guidance for companies with Smart Data & Digital Health solutions with the ambition to change the way drugs are developed and the way patients are treated. Our growing portfolio company achievements includes 18 FDA clearances or CE marks and 2 IPOs. Since 2018 Debiopharm has invested over USD 120 million, typically leading the investment rounds of its 16 portfolio companies.

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Spotlight

A biosimilar co-developed by generics giant Mylan and Indian biopharmaceutical company Biocon (NSE: BIOCON) is as effective in treating HER2 metastatic breast cancer as Herceptin (trastuzumab), according to the results of a Phase III clinical trial.

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