And then there were 4: Juno adds an­oth­er vic­tim in CAR-T death tal­ly

Juno’s CAR-T drugs didn’t just kill three peo­ple in clin­i­cal tri­als. They ac­tu­al­ly killed 4, as the com­pa­ny notes in its “re­vised” re­marks from last week’s tran­script of a call with com­pa­ny an­a­lysts. And the fol­lowup rais­es the mys­tery of yet an­oth­er case of cere­bral ede­ma trig­gered by se­vere neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty, which may or may not have been re­port­ed by Juno.

Here’s the state­ment, post­ed with the tran­script in a fil­ing with the SEC:

Note to Re­vised Re­marks: (Chief Med­ical Of­fi­cer Dr. Mark) Gilbert mis­tak­en­ly said “three” cas­es out of 129 rather than “four” cas­es. The fourth case was a pa­tient treat­ed in the JCAR014 tri­al, which case oc­curred in a young adult pa­tient with r/r ALL who re­ceived flu/cy pre­con­di­tion­ing and a high­er JCAR014 cell dose than is now used on that tri­al. This death was in­clud­ed in the da­ta pre­sent­ed in an oral pre­sen­ta­tion at the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Hema­tol­ogy meet­ing in De­cem­ber 2015 and in­clud­ed in Juno’s An­nu­al Re­port on Form 10-K for the fis­cal year end­ed De­cem­ber 31, 2015.

Note to Re­vised Re­marks: As not­ed ear­li­er in the ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion, the FDA al­so re­port­ed an in­stance of cere­bral ede­ma in its data­base out­side of the JCAR015 tri­al. Juno does not know whether that in­stance is the same case of cere­bral ede­ma as Juno is aware of from the JCAR014 tri­al, or if it oc­curred on a tri­al for a non-Juno prod­uct can­di­date.

Juno trig­gered a rout among its in­vestors last week when it stunned the mar­ket with news that its lead CAR-T drug, JCAR015, had killed three peo­ple in clin­i­cal stud­ies, trig­ger­ing a clin­i­cal hold of its piv­otal study by the FDA. The com­pa­ny im­me­di­ate­ly blamed the re­cent ad­di­tion of the chemo drug flu­dara­bine to pre­con­di­tion pa­tients for the cell ther­a­py and of­fered to drop the drug. In one of the fastest re­spons­es by the FDA in the face of mul­ti­ple pa­tient deaths, the agency agreed and lift­ed the hold ear­li­er this week.

The per­son­al­ized brand of CAR-Ts that Juno, Kite, and No­var­tis have been de­vel­op­ing ex­tract im­mune cells from pa­tients, re-en­gi­neer them with a chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tor and then in­ject them back in­to pa­tients, equipped to swarm can­cer cells. These new treat­ments are al­so known to trig­ger cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome, which forced a tem­po­rary pause in the ex­per­i­men­tal work a cou­ple of years ago. But Juno be­lieves that the way that flu­dara­bine was used re­cent­ly caused the neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty that trig­gered cas­es of cere­bral ede­ma tracked by in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Not every­one was as quick as the FDA to buy in­to that the­o­ry, though, as sev­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tors note that flu­dara­bine has been used reg­u­lar­ly with­out ev­i­dence of cere­bral ede­mas. In ad­di­tion, ri­val Kite Ther­a­peu­tics has used a low dose of flu­dara­bine in its work and has no plans to change as it pur­sues its own piv­otal work.

The FDA, though, is not ex­plain­ing any­thing as of now, de­clin­ing to an­swer some spe­cif­ic ques­tions of mine.

“Cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Chimeric Anti­gen Re­cep­tor (CAR) T-Cell ther­a­pies, hold great promise in the treat­ment of se­ri­ous and life-threat­en­ing dis­eases,” the agency said in a state­ment to End­points. “We there­fore do every­thing pos­si­ble to as­sist spon­sors in ad­vanc­ing clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­grams in an ef­fort to bring promis­ing ther­a­pies to pa­tients. The FDA rec­og­nizes that in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al prod­ucts in­tend­ed to treat se­ri­ous dis­eases al­so have the po­ten­tial to pose risks to pa­tients. To this end, the FDA con­stant­ly looks at the risk-ben­e­fit pro­file of ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­pies and when we have con­cerns about the risks, we may place the clin­i­cal tri­als on hold.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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Brid­get Martell on tak­ing Yale spin­out 'to adult­hood'; Cul­li­nan On­col­o­gy CEO an­nounces res­ig­na­tion as Bris­tol My­ers hema­tol­ogy ex­ec is wel­comed aboard

Bridget Martell’s first clinical trial was an unorthodox one.

Then a resident in internal medicine at Yale, she was given an award to explore a career in clinical research — which was how she wound up leading a Phase I study for a therapeutic cocaine vaccine designed to help overcome addiction. She ended up overseeing the trial from Patient 1 to Patient 110 and, in the end, the early trial was positive.

David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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No­vo CEO Lars Fruer­gaard Jør­gensen on R&D risk, the deal strat­e­gy and tar­gets for gen­der di­ver­si­ty

 

I kicked off our European R&D summit last week with a conversation involving Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. Novo is aiming to launch a new era of obesity management with a new approval for semaglutide. And Jørgensen had a lot to say about what comes next in R&D, how they manage risk and gender diversity targets at the trendsetting European pharma giant.

John Carroll: I’m here with Lars Jørgensen, the CEO of Novo Nordisk. Lars, it’s been a really interesting year so far with Novo Nordisk, right? You’ve projected a new era of growing sales. You’ve been able to expand on the GLP-1 franchise that was already well established in diabetes now going into obesity. And I think a tremendous number of people are really interested in how that’s working out. You have forecast a growing amount of sales. We don’t know specifically how that might play out. I know a lot of the analysts have different ideas, how those numbers might play out, but that we are in fact embarking on a new era for Novo Nordisk in terms of what the company’s capable of doing and what it’s able to do and what it wants to do. And I wanted to start off by asking you about obesity in particular. Semaglutide has been approved in the United States for obesity. It’s an area of R&D that’s been very troubled for decades. There have been weight loss drugs that have come along. They’ve attracted a lot of attention, but they haven’t actually ever gained traction in the market. My first question is what’s different this time about obesity? What is different about this drug and why do you expect it to work now whereas previous drugs haven’t?

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (via Getty images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA slaps As­traZeneca's MCL-1 can­cer drug with a hold af­ter safe­ty is­sue — 2 years af­ter Am­gen axed a trou­bled ri­val

There are new questions being posed about a class of cancer drugs in the wake of the second FDA-enforced clinical hold in the field.

Two years after the FDA hit Amgen with a clinical hold on its MCL-1 inhibitor AMG 397 following signs of cardiac toxicity, AstraZeneca says that regulators hit them with a hold on their rival therapy of the same class.

The pharma giant noted on clinicaltrials.gov that its Phase I/II study for the MCL-1 drug AZD5991 “has been put on hold to allow further evaluation of safety related information.”

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Sur­geons suc­cess­ful­ly at­tach pig kid­ney to a hu­man for the first time, us­ing tech from Unit­ed's Re­vivi­cor

In a first, researchers reportedly successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human without triggering an immediate immune response this week. And the technology came from the biotech United Therapeutics.

Surgeons spent three days attaching the kidney to the patient’s blood vessels, but when all was said and done, the kidney appeared to be functioning normally in early testing, Reuters and the New York Times were among those to report. The kidney came from a genetically altered pig developed through United’s Revivicor unit.

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Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Sen­a­tors back FDA's plan to re­quire manda­to­ry pre­scriber ed­u­ca­tion for opi­oids

Three Senate Democrats are backing an FDA plan to require mandatory prescriber education for opioids as overdose deaths have risen sharply over the past decade, with almost 97,000 American opioid-related overdose deaths in the past year alone.

While acknowledging a decline in overall opioid analgesic dispensing in recent years, the FDA said it’s reconsidering the need for mandatory prescriber training through a REMS given the current situation with overdoses, and is seeking input on the aspects of the opioid crisis that mandatory training could potentially mitigate.