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.”

To continue to full article, please click here.

FDA approves Proteostasis’s triple combination program for CF

Singapore — Proteostasis Therapeutics, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of ground-breaking therapies to treat cystic fibrosis (CF) and other diseases caused by dysfunctional protein processing, announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Fast Track Designation for the Company’s triple combination program for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. The Company’s proprietary triple combination includes a novel cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) amplifier, third generation corrector and potentiator, known as PTI-428, PTI-801 and PTI-808, respectively. The Company announced in January that the protocol for its triple combination clinical study, which the Company plans to initiate in the current quarter, has received endorsement and a high strategic fit score from the Therapeutics Development Network (TDN) and the Clinical Trial Network (CTN), the drug development arms of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) and the European CF Society (ECFS), respectively.

“Fast Track designation represents another positive step for the development of our triple combination therapy and underscores the serious unmet need that remains for the vast majority of CF patients,” said Meenu Chhabra, president and chief executive officer of Proteostasis Therapeutics.

The FDA’s Fast Track program is designed to facilitate the development and expedite the review of new drugs that are intended to treat serious or life-threatening conditions and that demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs. An investigational drug that receives Fast Track program designation is eligible for more frequent communications between the FDA and the company relating to the development plan and clinical trial design and may be eligible for priority review if certain criteria are met.

To read original article click here.

Low Level of Zinc Ions in Lungs Contribute to Buildup of Mucus in CF

When two channels that are supposed to move chloride and sodium ions out of cells in the lungs fail to function properly, it leads to the mucus buildup seen in cystic fibrosis.

Japanese researchers have discovered that the channel dysfunctions also reduce the amount of zinc ions going into the lungs, further contributing to the thick mucus accumulation.

Their study, published in the journal EBioMedicine, is titled “Zinc Deficiency via a Splice Switch in Zinc Importer ZIP2/SLC39A2 Causes Cystic Fibrosis-Associated MUC5AC Hypersecretion in Airway Epithelial Cells.Continue reading Low Level of Zinc Ions in Lungs Contribute to Buildup of Mucus in CF

Cancer gene plays key role in cystic fibrosis lung infections

PTEN is best known as a tumor suppressor, a type of protein that protects cells from growing uncontrollably and becoming cancerous. But according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), PTEN has a second, previously unknown talent: working with another protein, CFTR, it also keeps lung tissue free and clear of potentially dangerous infections.

The findings, published in Immunity, explain why people with cystic  are particularly prone to respiratory infections—and suggest a new approach to treatment.

A quarter-century ago, researchers discovered that cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene, which makes an eponymous protein that transports chloride ions in and out of the cell. Without ion transport, mucus in the lung becomes thicker and stickier and traps bacteria—especially Pseudomonas—in the lung. The trapped bacteria exacerbate the body’s inflammatory response, leading to persistent, debilitating infections.

But newer research suggests CFTR mutations also encourage infections through a completely different manner.

“Recent findings suggested that  with CFTR mutations have a weaker response to bacteria, reducing their ability to clear infections and augmenting inflammation,” said lead author Sebastián A. Riquelme, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at CUMC. “This was interesting because it pointed to a parallel deregulated immune mechanism that contributes to airway destruction, beyond CFTR’s effect on mucus.”

That’s where PTEN comes into play. “We had no idea that PTEN was involved in cystic fibrosis,” said study leader Alice Prince, MD, professor of pediatrics (in pharmacology). “We were studying mice that lack a form of PTEN and noticed that they had a severe inflammatory response to Pseudomonas and diminished clearance that looked a lot like what we see in patients with cystic fibrosis.”

Delving deeper, the CUMC team discovered that when PTEN is located on the surface of lung and immune cells, it helps clear Pseudomonas bacteria and keeps the inflammatory response in check. But PTEN can do this only when it’s attached to CFTR.

And in most cases of cystic fibrosis, little CFTR finds it way to the cell surface. As a result, the duo fail to connect, and Pseudomonas run wild.

As it happens, the latest generation of cystic fibrosis drugs push mutated CFTR to the cell surface, with the aim of improving chloride channel function and reducing a buildup of mucus. The new findings suggest that it might be beneficial to coax nonfunctional CFTR to the surface as well, since even abnormal CFTR can work with PTEN to fight infections, according to the researchers.

“Another idea is to find drugs that improve PTEN membrane anti-inflammatory activity directly,” said Dr. Riquelme. “There are several PTEN promotors under investigation as cancer treatments that might prove useful in cystic fibrosis.”

The study also raises the possibility that PTEN might have something to do with the increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer in . “With better clinical care, these patients are living much longer, and we’re seeing a rise in gastrointestinal cancers,” said Dr. Prince. “Some studies suggest that CFTR may be a tumor suppressor. Our work offers an alternative hypothesis, where CFTR mutations and lack of its partner, PTEN, might be driving this cancer in patients with .”

The paper is titled, “Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator attaches tumor suppressor PTEN to the membrane and promotes anti Pseudomonas aeruginosa immunity.”

For journal article click here:

http://www.cell.com/immunity/fulltext/S1074-7613(17)30487-9

Positive Results for Phase 3 Studies of the Tezacaftor/Ivacaftor Combination Treatment

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated (Nasdaq: VRTX) announced that the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published two articles with results from two Phase 3 studies of the tezacaftor/ivacaftor combination treatment, a medicine in development that is designed to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF) in people ages 12 and older who have certain mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. Continue reading Positive Results for Phase 3 Studies of the Tezacaftor/Ivacaftor Combination Treatment

Live Stream the North American CF Conference Tomorrow for Free!

The North American CF Conference (NACFC) provides a collaborative and educational forum for all CF professionals. The educational elements of the meeting program are targeted to physicians, nurses, research scientists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists, social workers, and pharmacists. Continue reading Live Stream the North American CF Conference Tomorrow for Free!

Phase 1a study for drug to treat CF regardless of CF Mutation

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171018005403/en/Synspira-Announces-Patient-Dosed-Phase-1a-Study

Synspira Announces First Patient Dosed in Phase 1a Study of SNSP113 in Cystic Fibrosis
— First-in-class drug candidate for treatment of cystic fibrosis regardless of genetic mutation — Continue reading Phase 1a study for drug to treat CF regardless of CF Mutation

Lab-made “mini organs” helping doctors treat cystic fibrosis

http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/lab-made-mini-organs-helping-doctors-treat-cystic-fibrosis/

Els van der Heijden, who has cystic fibrosis, was finding it ever harder to breathe as her lungs filled with thick, sticky mucus. Despite taking more than a dozen pills and inhalers a day, the 53-year-old had to stop Continue reading Lab-made “mini organs” helping doctors treat cystic fibrosis

New cystic fibrosis biotech aims to take a different approach than Vertex

http://www.bizjournals.com/

California-based Synedgen has spun out its experimental cystic fibrosis treatments into a new biotech to be based in the Boston area, with an eye toward complementing existing drugs for the lung disease. Continue reading New cystic fibrosis biotech aims to take a different approach than Vertex