Vertex Pharmaceuticals opens expanded San Diego research center with focus on cystic fibrosis

By Bradley J. Fikes

Vertex Pharmaceuticals opened its new San Diego research center Monday, starting a new chapter in a decades-long quest to not only treat but cure cystic fibrosis.

In 18 years, three drugs for the lung-ravaging disease have emerged from Vertex’s San Diego center and more are in the pipeline.

The first, Kalydeco, was approved in 2012. It is the first drug that treats the underlying cause of the disease. The second, Orkambi, was approved three years later. And the third, Symdeko, was approved in February.

These drugs can benefit about half of all patients with the incurable disease. In the next several years, Boston-based Vertex hopes its drugs can help nearly all patients live longer, healthier lives.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect that allows a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs, and other internal organs. This mucus clogs airways and promotes the growth of bacteria. The average lifespan of patients is 37 years, up from 20 years in 1980. Treatments include antibiotics to fight lung infections and mucus-thinning drugs.

The new 170,000 square-foot building on Torrey Pines Mesa more than doubles the company’s space. The center includes cell culturing equipment to grow lung cells from patients, to be used for drug screening. A 4,000 square-foot incubator suite will serve outside collaborators.

Asides from cystic fibrosis, the staff will work on other serious diseases.

Among the speakers Monday morning was a veteran in the fight against cystic fibrosis: Jennifer Ferguson, who has two children with the disease, Ashton and Lola. Both her children are taking Vertex drugs, and both were present with her at the event.

With these drugs and the promise of better therapies ahead, she says Ashton and Lola have a good chance of growing up and leading their own lives. She urged all Vertex employees to think of themselves as part of a team to cure the disease.

Ferguson, of San Diego, found out about the work from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The foundation had invested $30 million in startup Aurora Biosciences to find therapies.

In 2001, Vertex purchased Aurora for $592 million in stock, the same year Ashton was diagnosed. The research went on under Vertex, and Ferguson became quite familiar with the research team.

“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation asked me to come speak, to show them what it’s like to have a little child with CF,” she said. “So I came here about 17 years ago with him as a 6-month-old.”

At that time, many cystic fibrosis patients never reached adulthood.

“I had a hard time keeping it together,” Ferguson told the audience of that long-ago visit.

“But I looked in the staff’s faces — and some of you are still here — and I thought, I’m going to put my faith and trust in your hands, in your brains. And I was able to let go of my worry, because you were on the case.”

Ferguson started visiting every few years to check on what progress was being made, first with Ashton, and later including Lola. She also raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Both her children have shown improvement since starting the Vertex drugs, Ferguson said. But they still need to go through a daily regimen of clearing out their lungs.

From medications, the research frontier has advanced to investigations into a cure. That means fixing the genetic defect, which can come in several variations, inside living patients.

That cure might come from the hot new gene editing technology called CRISR. In 2015, Vertex allied with startup CRISPR Therapeutics to develop curative therapies.

This post was originally published on The San Diego Union-Tribune

CF Foundation ‘Venture Philanthropy’ Model Crucial to CF Breakthroughs

By Larry Luxner

When the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) was established in 1955, most people with cystic fibrosis (CF) didn’t make it to their sixth birthday. Today, the average life expectancy of a CF patient is 47 years.

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved 12 CF therapies. Three of them are CFTR modulators that treat the basic disease-causing defect, benefiting 60 percent of all patients, and more therapies are on the way.

Preston W. Campbell III, the CFF’s president and CEO, directly attributes this dramatic improvement to the foundation’s philosophy of “venture philanthropy.”

“We are now in Phase 3 CFTR trials that, if successful, will mean that as early as next year, more than 90 percent of all individuals with CF will have a highly effective therapy targeting CF’s basic defect,” he said. “More therapies that treat the complications of CF are in the pipeline than ever before.

“It begs the question: how did all of this happen?”

Campbell answered that during his March 26 presentation, “Patient advocates taking a real stand in drug development: How the CFF worked with biotech and pharma to find a cure,” at the 2018 World Orphan Drug Congress USA in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Back in 1960, the Bethesda, Maryland-based foundation broke ground by establishing a Care Center Network to provide multidisciplinary care. Within five more years, it had formed a patient registry.

With only $400,000 in the bank, it would also commit $11 million to research, Campbell said. “Five years later, in 1985, the basic CF defect was identified, and in 1989, the CFTR gene was discovered. That opened the floodgates,” he added.

Campbell’s predecessor, Robert J. Beall, created the Therapeutics Development Program — now called its Venture Philanthropy Model — in 1998 to entice industry to focus on CF, and specifically on CFTR as a target. Its three components were financial assistance, research tools and scientific advice, and a clinical trials network.

“We would lower the risk for industry to come into the CF space. We also made our research tools and scientific advice freely available, and we also embedded the best scientists in the world in these industry programs,” said Campbell, who took over from Beall as head of the CFF in January 2016. “Finally, in order to make sure clinical trials were safely and efficiently done, we created a clinical trials network that originally had seven centers and now has 89.”

In the beginning, CFF’s investments were typically in the $1.5 million range. Ultimately, the foundation invested more than $100 million in Aurora and its successor, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, whose headquarters are in Boston.

To date, the FDA has approved three Vertex CFTR modulators: Kalydeco (ivacaftor) for patients with the G551D mutation in the CFTR gene (2012); Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor)for patients who are homozygous for F508del, the most common mutation in the CFTR gene (2015); and Symdeko (tezacaftor/ivacaftor) for homozygous F508del patients as well as others (2018).

“Payments are milestone-based, so we pay for success,” Campbell said. “A scientific advisory committee determines if milestones are met and if the project should continue. Successful programs offer a return on our investment, so if the program is foundering, we shake hands and walk away.”

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Antibiotic resistance evolution of Pseudomonas aeruginosain cystic fibrosis patients

By Francesca Lucca, Margherita Guarnieri, Mirco Ros, Giovanni Muffato, Roberto Rigoli, and Liviana Da Dalt

Below is a study hoping to define and answer the questions of Pseudomonas aeruginosain, its evolution and the resistance from different antibiotics. The study took place between 2010-2013. Though the study may have some time clauses I believe there are some strong findings for the CF community moving forward.
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Introduction

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the predominant pathogen responsible of chronic colonization of the airways in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. There are few European data about antibiotic susceptibility evolution of P aeruginosa in CF patients.

Objectives

The aim of this study is to evaluate the evolution of antibiotic resistance in the period 2010‐2013 in CF patients chronically colonized by P aeruginosa and to highlight the characteristics of this evolution in patients younger than 20 years.

Methods

Clinical and microbiological data were extracted from two electronic databases and analyzed. Antibiotic resistance was defined according to European Committee of Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing for levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, meropenem, amikacin and ceftazidime. The between‐group comparison was drawn with the Chi‐square test for proportions, with the T‐test for unpaired samples for normally distributed data and with Mann‐Whitney test for non‐normally distributed data. Significancy was defined by P < .05.

Results

Fifty‐seven CF patients, including thirteen subjects aged less than 20 years, were enrolled. P.. aeruginosa antibiotic sensitivity decreased significantly for fluoroquinolones, mainly in patients aged <20 years, while it increased for amikacin and colistin. The analysis of minimum inhibitory concentration confirmed these trends. In pediatric patients treated with more than three antibiotic cycles per year, greater resistance was found, except for amikacin and colistin.

Conclusion

An evolution in P aeruginosa antibiotic resistances is observed in the 4‐year period studied. Responsible and informed use of antibiotics is mandatory in CF.
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Read the whole clinical journal here. 

Antibiotic resistance evolution of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis patients (2010‐2013) Francesca Lucca,Margherita Guarnieri,Mirco Ros,Giovanna Muffato,Roberto Rigoli,Liviana Da Dalt. First published: 1 April 2018. https://doi.org/10.1111/crj.12787

Steps in the Journey: CFTR mutation to sweat chloride concentration to survival

Associations between “salty” sweat and early mortality can be found in the scientific literature dating back to the 17th century [1], hundreds of years before a comprehensive medical description of cystic fibrosis (CF) [2]. Insightful observation of excessive dehydration and deaths among children during a 1948 New York City heat wave suggested that salt homeostasis was a fundamental cellular problem in CF [3], with identification of supranormal sweat chloride concentrations remaining fundamental to the diagnosis of CF today. Since identification of the mutated gene associated with CF (the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator; CFTR) [4], pieces of the CF puzzle seem to have, for the most part, fallen into place. Continue reading Steps in the Journey: CFTR mutation to sweat chloride concentration to survival

Introduction of New Therapies Affects Pregnancy Rates in Women With CF

The overall rate at which women with cystic fibrosis are becoming pregnant dropped slightly in recent years — coinciding with the introduction of CFTR modulators and the clinical trials that led to their approval as CF therapies — but appears to be rising again to pre-trial levels, a study reports.  Continue reading Introduction of New Therapies Affects Pregnancy Rates in Women With CF

A Brief Historical Timeline of CF Research to Date

Cystic fibrosis care has seen such rapid advances that the average CF patient has experienced a dramatic evolution in treatment strategies in their lifetime. Here are some of the biggest milestones that shaped modern-day CF treatments.

Continue reading A Brief Historical Timeline of CF Research to Date

Cystic Fibrosis Evolution

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Cystic-Fibrosis-Evolution.aspx

Cystic fibrosis is the most common genetic disease among people of European descent. It is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by a mutation of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein. When a Continue reading Cystic Fibrosis Evolution