#AACR18: Roche spot­lights promis­ing sub­group re­spons­es for lung can­cer com­bo with Tecen­triq

Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb aren’t the on­ly big play­ers look­ing to make a splash in front­line lung can­cer. Roche is al­so look­ing to el­bow in, and it’s of­fered up a look at some ad­di­tion­al IM­pow­er150 da­ta at AACR to back up their shot.

Alan San­dler

We al­ready know that Roche ex­ecs gave a pre­lim­i­nary thumbs up for its piv­otal IM­pow­er150 tri­al, study­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Tecen­triq, Avastin and chemo in front­line non­squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer and hit­ting a haz­ard ra­tio of 0.62 for the full group of pa­tients in the study. Pro­gres­sion Free Sur­vival in the main group was a me­di­an 8.3 months com­pared to 6.8 months in the con­trol, a mar­gin­al gain which isn’t like­ly to stir much ex­cite­ment. 

We’re find­ing out at AACR, though, that the line­up of ther­a­pies al­so stood out in some key sub­groups with par­tic­u­lar­ly en­cour­ag­ing pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival da­ta.

Look­ing at one EGFR/ALK+c sub­group, Roche is re­port­ing a me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate of 9.7 months — and a haz­ard ra­tion of 0.59 — com­pared to the con­trol arm with a 6.1 month PFS rate. Among 59 pa­tients in the EGFR ex­on 19 dele­tion of L858R group the haz­ard ra­tio hit 0.42, with a 10.2 month PFS com­pared to 6.1 months. And in pa­tients with liv­er metas­tases the PFS was 8.2 months com­pared to 5.4 months, with an HR of 0.40. In pa­tients with­out liv­er metas­tases, the HR jumps to 0.64.

Those kinds of num­bers in these par­tic­u­lar sub­groups are huge­ly im­por­tant, says Alan San­dler, glob­al head of the lung can­cer fran­chise at Genen­tech, as this is the first time in­ves­ti­ga­tors are get­ting a close look at these pa­tients’ re­sponse.

San­dler al­so not­ed that they saw pos­i­tive re­sults for both low and high PD-L1 ex­pressers, un­der­scor­ing a trend where the high ex­pressers are like­ly to see an en­hanced ben­e­fit from lung can­cer com­bos, with low ex­pressers still gain­ing a sig­nif­i­cant re­sponse as well.

I talked to San­dler ahead of the post­ing at AACR. One ob­jec­tion that’s been raised to the three-drug reg­i­men is that it adds a cost­ly ther­a­py to the mix. But he doesn’t think that price will be a bar­ri­er to fu­ture use.

“If there’s a clin­i­cal ben­e­fit,” says San­dler, “there will be us­age.”

There are al­so plen­ty of ways that a price on a par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion can be worked so that there isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a cost hur­dle to over­come, he adds.

Roche still has fur­ther to go in col­lect­ing more ma­ture sur­vival da­ta from the study. That will ar­rive at a fu­ture con­fer­ence. But they’re in the mix to­day, even as Mer­ck steals the show with its Keytru­da/chemo com­bo.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took at 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.

Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus grabs the ax and packs it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of set­backs

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.