Your bioshots for the week:

1. Roche invests in bromodomain (BET) inhibitors

Roche announced it is acquiring Cambridge, Massachusetts’s based Tensha Therapeutics for US$535 million. Their  interest lies in the company’s lead compound, TEN-010, a small-molecule inhibitor selective for the bromodomain and extra-terminal domain (BET) protein family. Bromodomains are said to be “epigenetic readers” that monitor histone acetylation/methylation marks, binding to them and regulating transcriptional activity.

There are already drugs like Xanax which inhibit BET (though weakly) on the market. But several other more potent BET inhibitors have conferred protection in various cancer preclinical models, regulating oncogene MYC transcription and other cancer-related genes such as Bcl2 and NFkappaB. There is significant interest in this class of molecules as GSK, Merck, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, AbbVie, Gilead and Daichii Sankyo all have their own BET inhibitors in clinical trials.

2. Exosome Diagnostics launches the first exosome RNA-based liquid biopsy

Exosomes are microvesicles released from cells which contain DNA, RNA and protein resembling the molecular milieu of the parent cell. They are found in most bodily fluids and have the ability also to enter cells and change their biology. Exosome Diagnostics was founded by Johan Skog, who during his work at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, found exosomes could enhance tumor growth by transporting mRNA, miRNA and angiogenic proteins, and could potentially serve as blood-based diagnostic markers (Nat. Cell Biol. 10, 1470–1476, 2008). Their newly launched ExoDx Lung(ALK) test characterizes both exosomal RNA and ctDNA, detecting  mutations in EML4-ALK, an oncogenic fusion protein transcript found in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

3. Wuxi Apptech acquires Crelux

Munich Martinsried-based Crelux has been acquired by Shanghai-based Wuxi AppTec. Crelux provides structural-based drug discovery solutions with expertise in in silico, biochemistry and X-ray crystallography techniques which Wuxi AppTec will benefit from. In turn, Wuxi AppTec hopes to extend its European presence and cater better to its European clients. See press release here.

4. GSK CEO Andrew Witty steps down

After intense pressure by investors, Sir Andrew Witty has announced he will be stepping down in March 2017. Sliding sales figures from a combination of factors including patent expiration, poor executive decisions to sell its oncology business to focus on lower risk products, and rampant bad press from China bribery scandals have made Dr Witty’s time at GSK an especially tumultuous one. The lookout for potential candidates has started, with CFO Simon Dingemans being an option but investors are insisting on external candidates to present a fresh perspective. Novartis’ pharma chief, David Epstein, being a potential choice.

5. Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos, again

Scientists from the Guangzhou Medical University have used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to genetically modify human embryos. The 26 embryos used in the study came from 213 fertilized eggs obtained from a fertility clinic. These embryos were classified as “unsuitable” for clinical use due to an extra set of chromosomes. Mutations were targeted towards immune cell gene CCR5, in the hope to regulate resistance to HIV. However, only 4 out of 26 of the embryos were successfully edited with several showing off-target gene mutations. This study comes after a previous study also performed in China Guangzhou, which triggered the world-wide debate on ethical concerns regarding human gene editing. An international scientific summit in December 2015 however concluded that although implantation of gene-edited embryos cannot be done in women to induce pregnancy, basic research in this area should continue. U.K. officials have also approved an embryo-editing study seeking to understand early human development.

6. Sean Parker invests $250 million on cancer immunotherapy 

Co-founder of Napster and Facebook’s first President Sean Parker launched a US$250 million grant, creating Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, an institute that will bring together more than 300 researchers from 40 laboratories across six cancer centers. This article by Sharan Begley breaks down his decision into 5 questions. Cancer immuotherapy has already received tremendous research funding support – $100 million was given by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and clothing magnate Sidney Kimmel. Biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong and Joe Biden have also both launched their individual cancer “moonshot” plans, both highly funded and involving massive collaboration between numerous institutes.

7. Pfizer and Allergan call off merger 

After months of negotiation, a new temporary ruling by the U.S. Department of Treasury on April 4 which made the tax-incentive derived from the merger no longer as lucrative as it would have been, has led Pfizer to cancel its plans to acquire Ireland-based Allergan. Pfizer may now look to split up its business into smaller units while Allergan, disappointed with the deal fall-through, obtains a $400 million break fee. See the Pfizer press release and interview with Allergan CEO on CNBC expressing frustration with the move made by the US government.



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