Friday Five - The pharma week in review (5 March 2020)

COVID-19 updates…

The pharmaceutical industry has continued to respond to the global spread of COVID-19 this week, with a number of companies outlining development programmes for potential therapies and vaccines.

Takeda said it will develop a plasma-derived therapy for COVID-19, using capabilities gained from the $62-billion acquisition of Shire, which was completed last year. It noted that if successfully developed, its-plasma based treatment would be designed to treat patients severely affected by COVID-19.

Partners Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Vir Biotechnology announced they will expand an existing collaboration to include the development of RNAi therapeutics targeting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Vir, helmed by former Biogen CEO George Scangos, is following multiple approaches to tackle the outbreak, while Scangos will also coordinate the Biotechnology Innovation Organization's (BIO) response.

Arcturus Therapeutics confirmed it is working with Duke-NUS Medical School to develop a COVID-19 vaccine based on its STARR technology, which is designed to produce a vaccine response at much lower doses that traditional vaccines.

US President Donald Trump met with executives from a number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies on Tuesday to discuss progress on their efforts to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, and treatments for the novel coronavirus. Analysis – ViewPoints: Biopharma goes to Washington.

See also ViewPoints: Remdesivir the redeemer and KOL Views Results: Leading expert says COVID-19 response is proportionate and embraces lessons from prior outbreaks

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Gilead acquires Forty Seven

Gilead Sciences announced on Monday it will acquire the biotech company Forty Seven for approximately $4.9 billion, in a move designed to deepen its presence in immuno-oncology and help build a 'critical mass' in haematological cancer, executives said.

Gilead will gain access to a near-marketable asset in the form of Forty Seven's CD47-targeting monoclonal antibody magrolimab. Positive data for the drug were presented in myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukaemia at the annual meeting of the American Hematology Association (ASH) in December. Magrolimab has received positive feedback from key opinion leaders who were interviewed recently by FirstWord.

See also ViewPoints: Gilead deal ripples through the CD47 world

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Two key updates in multiple myeloma

The FDA approved Sanofi's CD38-targeting monoclonal antibody Sarclisa (isatuximab) in combination with Pomalyst and dexamethasone for the treatment of adults with multiple myeloma who have received at least two prior therapies.

See ViewPoints: Can Sanofi ensure Sarclisa is more than an also-ran in multiple myeloma?

Elsewhere, Karyopharm Therapeutics announced positive top-line Phase III data supporting the potential use of its drug Xpovio in combination with once-weekly Velcade and low-dose dexamethasone as a second- and third-line treatment for multiple myeloma. More detailed results from the BOSTON study will be presented at a future medical meeting.

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Ophthalmologists chime in on outlook for Novartis' Beovu

The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) recently raised safety concerns about Beovu, a new treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is marketed by Novartis and which was approved by the FDA last October.

Feedback from our Physician Views snap-poll published on Wednesday indicate that among 68 US-based ophthalmologists, 25% predict that the safety concerns will play a significant role in limiting the long-term adoption and utilisation of Beovu.

However, one expert recently told FirstWord that physicians already using the treatment should not be too hasty in changing their practice.

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Biogen teams up with Sangamo

While investors and Wall Street analysts remain laser focused on pending potential confirmation that Biogen's experimental Alzheimer's disease treatment aducanumab has been accepted for regulatory review by the FDA, the company continues to invest heavily in neuroscience R&D.

At the back end of last week it announced a broad partnership with Sangamo Therapeutics focused on developing gene-regulation therapies for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and a third undisclosed neuromuscular target. Biogen will pay $350 million upfront, with Sangamo eligible for up to $2.4 billion in potential future milestone payments.

We took a closer look at what the deal could mean for Biogen's broader neuroscience efforts…

In related news this week Allergan, Editas dose first patient with CRISPR-based therapy AGN-151587 in Leber congenital amaurosis trial

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