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The Readout Damian Garde

How immunotherapy became big business

Biotech acolytes surely know the name of Jim Allison, the researcher most publicly associated with cancer immunotherapy drugs. Most also know Tasuku Honjo, with whom Allison shared a Nobel Prize last year.

But fewer know the story of how the drugs that resulted from those scientists’ research managed to make it through the labyrinth of pharmaceutical development. Much of it tracks back to one research executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Nils Lonberg, who today is announcing that he is leaving to advise the venture capital firm, Canaan Partners.

Lonberg was previously a top executive at Medarex, which Bristol-Myers bought in 2009. While there, he was instrumental in the decision to start trials for both Opdivo and Yervoy, and one of the key figures in starting this research revolution. STAT’s Matthew Herper follows him from his grad school days to the present in this must-read profile.

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Y Combinator to fund more academic spinouts

Bay Area startup incubator Y Combinator is announcing today that it plans to increase its focus on small molecule drugs, with a partnership designed to bring academic spinouts developing small-molecule drugs into its famed accelerator program. There will also be a tech-y twist: Y Combinator plans to choose compounds to back with the help of an algorithm.

Atomwise, a Y Combinator alum, will use its artificial intelligence tools to help the incubator whittle down a pool of 200 applicants to a choice few, trying to identify drug candidates that might have a higher likelihood of working. 

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Eisai doubles down on dementia

Scientists are at an impasse in developing new dementia therapies. So Japanese drug maker Eisai, recovering from the failure of its Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab, is launching an incubator to nurture startups focused on such neurodegenerative diseases. 

The Eisai Incubator for NeuroDiscovery — e-IND for short — has actually been in development for the past year. It’ll be located in Cambridge, where Eisai is relocating its Massachusetts-based research staff to focus on the link between inflammation and diseases of the brain. 

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Is Roche losing its oncologic steam?

Roche was the uncontested leader in oncologic drugs for nearly two decades. That’s changing, however, as its blockbusters give way to biosimilars, and more and more competitors enter the marketplace, the Wall Street Journal writes. Roche’s cancer drug sales were double those of its top competitor last year, but that lead is expected to shrink in the coming years.

The reason Roche had such a strong foothold in the cancer market is largely because of its partnership with Genentech, which it acquired in 2009. But revenues are projected to fall 12 percent over the next six years — while the overall cancer market nearly doubles.

More reads

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Monday, April 29, 2019


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