A PhII flop trig­gers an ug­ly rout for mi­cro-cap biotech Aridis; Gen­fit CEO pass­es ba­ton to suc­ces­sor

Vu Truong

Mi­cro-cap biotech Aridis Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $ARDS got ham­mered this morn­ing as in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­vealed that one of its clin­i­cal-stage drugs failed a mid-stage study, trig­ger­ing safe­ty fears and forc­ing the com­pa­ny to dump the pro­gram.

The an­ti-in­fec­tive out­fit says that AR-105 — an an­ti­body — failed to beat out a place­bo in treat­ing ven­ti­la­tor-as­so­ci­at­ed pneu­mo­nia caused by gram-neg­a­tive Pseudomonas aerug­i­nosa. And there was an im­bal­ance in deaths and se­ri­ous ad­verse events that left the ther­a­py with a worse safe­ty pro­file.

The fail­ure touched off a rout among in­vestors as the stock plunged more than 30%, carv­ing in­to a mar­ket cap of $104 mil­lion.

Now that the mid-stage pro­gram is gone, Aridis CEO Vu Truong — a Med­Im­mune vet — says they will fo­cus on their Phase III ther­a­py AR-301, al­so for VAP. The in­ter­im da­ta is due in the first half of next year.

A cou­ple months af­ter NASH hope­ful Gen­fit was award­ed or­phan drug sta­tus by US and EU reg­u­la­tors for its ex­per­i­men­tal drug, elafi­bra­nor, to treat pa­tients with pri­ma­ry bil­iary cholan­gi­tis (PBC), CEO Jean-François Mouney is hand­ing the reins to Pas­cal Prignet — who joined the com­pa­ny less than a year and a half ago from GSK as EVP of mar­ket­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment. Mouney will re­main as chair­man of the com­pa­ny’s board of di­rec­tors. 

Jean-François Mouney, Gen­fit CEO

Mouney said there was no ex­ter­nal search, hav­ing iden­ti­fied Pri­gent as a nat­ur­al suc­ces­sor. “It’s a per­son­al de­ci­sion tak­en af­ter thought­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, fol­low­ing two decades of in­ten­sive work ded­i­cat­ed to de­vel­op­ing GEN­FIT. I’ve asked Pas­cal to ac­cept the CEO po­si­tion be­cause I’m con­vinced he is best po­si­tioned to over­see our fu­ture cor­po­rate growth.”

Prignet joined the com­pa­ny in May 2018 af­ter var­i­ous stints at Eli Lil­ly and GSK, where he ran their US vac­cines di­vi­sion. In ad­di­tion, the com­pa­ny an­nounced that they will be adding three new board mem­bers (cur­rent­ly uniden­ti­fied) in the next eight to nine months to help steer the com­pa­ny to­wards a stronger pres­ence in the US.

→ T cell ther­a­py play­er Im­munotech Bio­pharm has filed for an IPO in Hong Kong. The list­ing would rep­re­sent the next chap­ter in its sin­gle mis­sion to ad­vance cel­lu­lar im­munother­a­py for can­cer in Chi­na, the com­pa­ny wrote, which be­gan back in 2006. Its lead prod­uct can­di­date, EAL — which con­sists of au­tol­o­gous CD8+ T cells ac­ti­vat­ed and ex­pand­ed ex vi­vo — is cur­rent­ly in a 272-pa­tient Phase II clin­i­cal tri­al for post­sur­gi­cal liv­er can­cer, a preva­lent in­di­ca­tion in Chi­na.

With R&D and man­u­fac­tur­ing sites in Bei­jing as well as a re­search cen­ter in Ko­rea, the com­pa­ny is al­so seek­ing to bring sev­er­al CAR-T treat­ments in­to the clin­ic — the fron­trun­ner be­ing an an­ti-CD19 prod­uct. One of the oth­ers tar­get­ing BC­MA would pit Im­munotech against Leg­end Biotech, a J&J-part­nered play­er owned by CRO Gen­Script (al­so list­ed on HKEX).

The IPO is ex­pect­ed to bring in $100 mil­lion to $200 mil­lion, Reuters‘ IFR re­port­ed. Wang Yu, who had shaped the com­pa­ny as it is known to­day from a pre­de­ces­sor firm dubbed Bei­jing Yong­tai, con­tin­ues to lead Im­munotech’s team of 110 as CEO and co-chief tech­nol­o­gy of­fi­cer.

→ Trou­bled Abeona Ther­a­peu­tics $ABEO an­nounced that Jef­feries will re­main its fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor for the com­pa­ny’s strate­gic re­view. This comes less than a year af­ter the com­pa­ny boot­ed their CEO, Carsten Thiel, for un­spec­i­fied “per­son­al mis­con­duct” in­volv­ing his in­ter­ac­tions with col­leagues at the com­pa­ny.

“There can be no as­sur­ance this strate­gic re­view will re­sult in the com­ple­tion of any par­tic­u­lar course of ac­tion. There is no de­fined time­line for com­ple­tion of the re­view process and the com­pa­ny does not in­tend to com­ment fur­ther un­less a spe­cif­ic ini­tia­tive is ap­proved by the Board of Di­rec­tors, the re­view process is con­clud­ed, or it is oth­er­wise de­ter­mined that oth­er dis­clo­sure is ap­pro­pri­ate,” the com­pa­ny stat­ed.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the Nevada Democrats' "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (Getty Images)

Eliz­a­beth War­ren pro­pos­es us­ing com­pul­so­ry li­cens­ing, an­titrust ac­tions to break bio­phar­ma’s con­trol of drug pric­ing — and here are the block­busters she’s tar­get­ing first

Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill may have sparked some industrial strength headaches on the money side of biopharma, but Elizabeth Warren seems determined to become biopharma’s Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Warren, one of the top-ranked candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination backing Medicare for all, is circulating a new plan that promises to break the industry’s grip on drug prices — and she has some very specific examples of how she would do it.
The Warren plan would rely on the federal government’s compulsory licensing powers to seize the IP of blockbuster drugs like Truvada and Harvoni to provide them at a fraction of what Gilead sells them for in the US. And she would throw some antitrust actions in as needed to rein in the price of Humira, AbbVie’s cash cow that continues to dominate the list of the most profitable therapeutics on the market.
Notably, she plans to rely on the powers already vested in the federal government, rather than suggest remedies that would require the assent of a deeply divided Congress.
In addition to the blockbusters on the list, Warren sends a clear signal that the same tactics would be used to beef up the supply of cheap antibiotics, as needed. And the same action could befall any other therapy patients can’t afford.

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Mer­ck’s $1B cash gam­ble pays off with a sur­pris­ing PhI­II car­dio suc­cess for Bay­er’s heart drug veri­ciguat

More than 3 years after Merck stepped up and paid $1 billion in cold, hard cash to gain the US commercial rights to Bayer’s high-risk heart drug vericiguat in a broad-ranging cardio alliance, the partners say their Phase III study has come through with promising data and a date with regulators.
We don’t have the data, and won’t until they put it out at an upcoming scientific session, but Merck touted the results, saying that their big Phase III VICTORIA study hit the primary endpoint  — with vericiguat combined with available therapies reducing “the risk of the composite endpoint of heart failure hospitalization or cardiovascular death in patients with worsening chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) compared to placebo when given in combination with available heart failure therapies.”
Depending on the hard data, and how it breaks out with the combinations used, this drug could pose a threat to Novartis’ blockbuster drug Entresto, currently at $1.6 billion while analysts expect peak sales to hit $4 billion.
The drug is a soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) stimulator, which Bayer and Merck have had high hopes for. Evidently, so did cardiologists. Cowen’s last analysis set potential sales at $400 million in 2024, but that number could go up significantly now.
Cowen’s Steve Scala noted this morning:
Vericiguat could be a lucrative product for Merck, and one with potentially under-appreciated value. At Cowen’s Therapeutics Conference in September 2019, 80% of specialists anticipated a positive result from VICTORIA whereas only 51% of investors shared this optimism.
Investigators recruited more than 5,000 patients at more than 600 centers in 42 countries for this study — one of the most expensive propositions in R&D. Millions of people in the US suffer from heart failure with reduced ejection fraction when the failing heart fails to contract properly to eject blood into the system. Bayer holds ex-US rights to the drug and also stands to earn cash from the $1.1 billion in milestones Merck agreed on for their collaboration.
Remarkably, the drug was pushed into Phase III despite failing the mid-stage trial — though investigators flagged a success at the high dose of 10 mg. In VICTORIA, researchers started patients at 2.5 mg and then titrated up to 5 and then 10 mg.

Alk­er­mes forges $950M biotech buy­out deal in a bold bet on an ear­ly-stage CNS drug plat­form

Alkermes $ALKS is investing $100 million cash and committing up to $850 million more in milestones in a big wager on a very early-stage CNS discovery platform. And the biotech is adding $20 million more to fund next year’s new research work on the platform it’s acquiring in today’s buyout with an eye to expanding the research work in oncology.

The biotech, helmed by Richard Pops, is buying Rodin Therapeutics, which had focused early on Alzheimer’s disease. Pops’ buyout, though, isn’t focused solely on the most troublesome sector in pharma R&D.

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Left to right: Arthur Pappas, Robert Nelsen, Peter Kolchinsky Doug Cole and David Beier

In rare po­lit­i­cal for­ay, top biotech in­vestors urge Con­gress to re­ject drug pric­ing bill

Thirteen of the top biotech venture capitalists in the country wrote a letter last week warning lawmakers that if Congress passes a drug pricing bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put before lawmakers, they won’t be able to invest in biomedical research at their current rate, and patients will suffer.

“If policies such as those included within H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, are passed, our ability to continue to invest in future biomedical innovation will be severely constrained, thus crushing the hopes of millions of patient waiting for the next breakthroughs to treat or cure their cancers, rare genetic diseases, Alzheimer’s, or other serious and life-threatening conditions,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the highest-ranking Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and acquired by Endpoints News. 

Dicer­na scores broad, 'rest of liv­er' deal with No­vo Nordisk, bag­ging $225M in cash to hit some 30 tar­gets with RNAi plat­form

Turns out Dicerna wasn’t done with deals yet after locking in $200 million upfront from Roche for a hepatitis B cocktail two weeks ago.

Novo Nordisk has signed on as the latest partner to its GalXC RNAi platform, handing over $175 million in cash to claim any and all targets of interest in liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases that are not already reserved in previous pacts. The Danish drugmaker — which has signaled its interest to expand considerably beyond its core diabetes franchise into areas like NASH — is also purchasing $50 million worth of Dicerna’s equity at a 25% premium of $21.93 per share. More research payments and milestones extending to the billions are on the line.

Gene ther­a­py wins the in­side track at EMA; PPD files for IPO

→ Gene therapy maker Orchard Therapeutics has been granted an accelerated assessment for OTL-200 by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). The gene therapy — in development in partnership with the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in Milan, Italy — being used towards the treatment of metachromatic leukodystrophy.

→ Pharmaceutical Product Development has announced that its parent company, PPD, Inc has submitted a draft to the SEC relating to the proposal of an IPO of the parent company’s common stock. Number of shares and price range have not yet been determined.

Pfiz­er gets biosim­i­lar ap­proved for Hu­mi­ra, set­ting up com­pe­ti­tion — in 2023

In the story lawmakers and drug pricing reform advocates have told about the drug industry, there are perhaps few greater villains than Humira and its maker AbbVie.

Between 2012 and 2018, AbbVie upped the drug’s annual after-rebates cost from $19,000 to $38,000 in the US, with sticker prices now over $60,000 per year — increases that led to accusations of price gouging, most recently from Democratic presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren.