Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie CEO (AP Images)

Ab­b­Vie chas­es its next gold­en goose in a post-Hu­mi­ra fu­ture with new ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis da­ta for Rin­voq

Still bathing in the af­ter­glow of its big-mon­ey ac­qui­si­tion of Al­ler­gan, Ab­b­Vie faces the dark cloud of a post-Hu­mi­ra fu­ture — and the dead­line is ap­proach­ing fast. Key to Ab­b­Vie’s plan are two im­munol­o­gy launch­es with ag­gres­sive clin­i­cal dreams; one of those, JAK in­hibitor Rin­voq, is now one step clos­er to an­oth­er Hu­mi­ra-match­ing ap­proval.

Ab­b­Vie’s Rin­voq (upadac­i­tinib) best­ed place­bo in help­ing ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis pa­tients achieve clin­i­cal re­mis­sion at the eight-week mark and sig­nif­i­cant­ly re­duced key symp­to­matic bio­mark­ers, in­clud­ing gas­troin­testi­nal in­flam­ma­tion, ac­cord­ing to da­ta from the Phase III U-Achieve study un­veiled Wednes­day.

Twen­ty-six per­cent of pa­tients dosed with a once-dai­ly, 45-mg dose of Rin­voq hit clin­i­cal re­mis­sion af­ter two months com­pared with just 5% on place­bo, Ab­b­Vie said. Rin­voq al­so in­duced gas­troin­testi­nal im­prove­ment in 36% of pa­tients; mean­while, just 7% pa­tients on place­bo hit that mark.

Rin­voq al­so aced its oth­er sec­ondary end­points over place­bo, in­clud­ing achiev­ing clin­i­cal re­sponse in pa­tients and re­duc­ing swelling of the mu­cos­al lin­ing. U-Achieve is one of two in­duc­tive stud­ies Ab­b­Vie has planned for Rin­voq in UC along with three piv­otal tri­als for a pos­si­ble reg­u­la­to­ry sub­mis­sion.

Rin­voq’s UC quest is part of a wide-rang­ing clin­i­cal pro­gram for the drug that in­cludes on­go­ing late-stage tri­als for un­ap­proved in­di­ca­tions in atopic der­mati­tis, pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis, ax­i­al spondy­loarthri­tis, Crohn’s dis­ease, gi­ant cell ar­teri­tis and Takaya­su’s ar­teri­tis.

The end goal is sim­ple and dri­ven by a loom­ing axe in Ab­b­Vie’s port­fo­lio: Rin­voq must even­tu­al­ly snare enough in­di­ca­tions to make up for the sales loss of megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra, which is fac­ing US biosim­i­lar com­pe­ti­tion start­ing in 2023.

That time­line would give Rin­voq, which orig­i­nal­ly notched an FDA ap­proval to treat mod­er­ate-to-se­vere rheuma­toid arthri­tis back in Au­gust 2019, rough­ly three years to gain enough mo­men­tum to be­gin off­set­ting Hu­mi­ra’s ex­pect­ed de­cline. But it won’t be a sure-fire path to suc­cess: Rin­voq sports a JAK class warn­ing la­bel for se­ri­ous in­fec­tions, ma­lig­nan­cy and throm­bo­sis that has spooked many rheuma­tol­o­gists off the drugs and could make a ma­jor mar­ket en­try in­to any of those new in­di­ca­tions a dif­fi­cult road.

Luck­i­ly, Ab­b­Vie isn’t putting all its eggs in­to one bas­ket as it looks in­to the post-Hu­mi­ra fu­ture. The Chica­go drug­mak­er al­so sports re­cent pso­ri­a­sis launch Skyrizi, which it hopes to pair up with Rin­voq as a one-two punch to match Hu­mi­ra high­est sales peak. Ab­b­Vie is so gung-ho about the pair’s chances that CEO Rick Gon­za­lez posit­ed in Jan­u­ary at the JP Mor­gan Health­care Con­fer­ence that the two drugs could hit a com­bined $20 bil­lion in an­nu­al sales if they snag all of Hu­mi­ra’s ap­provals and add more — atopic der­mati­tis, for in­stance.

Mean­while, Ab­b­Vie is still in the process of di­gest­ing its $63 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Al­ler­gan, which brought aes­thet­ic/ther­a­peu­tic block­buster Botox in­to the fold. Al­ler­gan came in sport­ing boom­ing an­tipsy­chot­ic Vray­lar as well, tack­ing a sec­ond growth dri­ver on­to the new com­pa­ny’s lapel.

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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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

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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Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

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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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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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 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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Some can­cer pa­tients now have to find oth­er op­tions as Bris­tol My­er­s' Abrax­ane falls in­to short­age from man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

When Beth Hogan, a metastatic pancreatic cancer patient, showed up for her infusion at Yale’s Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, CT on Oct. 11, she said she was informed that day that she would not be receiving Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane, part of her combo treatment, because of a shortage.

“I was told we don’t know when you can have it,” she told Endpoints News via email, adding that she doesn’t expect to receive any Abraxane this coming Monday at her treatment appointment either, and she doesn’t know when things will change.