Jingwu Zang, I-Mab founder and chairman

#AS­CO21: Ab­b­Vie-part­nered Chi­nese biotech with first-in-class am­bi­tions show­cas­es ear­ly da­ta on CD73 an­ti­body

Weeks af­ter Gilead-part­nered Ar­cus whipped up some cheers from an­a­lysts around its small mol­e­cule CD73 in­hibitor — pre­sent­ing pre­lim­i­nary da­ta at AACR that “ex­ceed­ed ex­pec­ta­tions” — a Chi­nese biotech is un­veil­ing its own ear­ly re­sults us­ing an an­ti­body ap­proach that it says puts more weight be­hind the tar­get.

I-Mab tout­ed a 23% ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate in the US Phase I dose es­ca­la­tion study, among 13 evalu­able pa­tients with sev­er­al dif­fer­ent types of ad­vanced can­cers. All were giv­en a com­bi­na­tion of uliledlimab and Roche’s PD-L1, Tecen­triq.

While it’s still ear­ly, founder and chair­man Jing­wu Zang said the num­bers mark “a very in­ter­est­ing start­ing point for us to build on.”

CD73, he said, has been on top of I-Mab’s tar­get list as it hunts im­muno-on­col­o­gy agents that can help pa­tients who don’t re­spond to check­point in­hibitors. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing As­traZeneca and ORIC, are al­so pur­su­ing it. Be­cause it is part of the im­muno­sup­pres­sive adeno­sine path­way, block­ing it is the­o­rized to turn a cold tu­mor hot, there­by cre­at­ing a bet­ter mi­croen­vi­ron­ment for T cells to kill can­cer.

The com­pa­ny’s claim to fame lies in the crowd­ed CD47 field, where it boasts of a “dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed” an­ti­body that drew Ab­b­Vie in for a $3 bil­lion pact. CD73 is nowhere near­ly as pop­u­lar — Zang counts on­ly five an­ti­bod­ies around the world that’s reached clin­i­cal stage — but I-Mab sim­i­lar­ly be­lieves it has a unique drug on its hands.

In par­tic­u­lar, in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­port­ed no “hook ef­fect” in the Phase I tri­al, mean­ing the an­ti­body po­ten­cy seemed to in­crease pro­por­tion­ate with the dose rather than los­ing in­hi­bi­tion at a high­er dose, an is­sue ob­served with cer­tain oth­er drugs in the class.

“This is not com­plete­ly by de­sign,” Zang said, ex­plain­ing that they had on­ly in­tend­ed to avoid the epi­topes tar­get­ed by oth­ers.

The re­sult­ing an­ti­body ap­pears safe and pleas­ant­ly sur­prised him with the clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty — both in PD-(L)1 treat­ment naïve and re­frac­to­ry cas­es. A pa­tient with ovar­i­an can­cer achieved a com­plete re­sponse, two oth­ers saw a par­tial re­sponse, while an­oth­er three had sta­ble dis­ease.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, in­ves­ti­ga­tors not­ed that the three re­spon­ders were al­so the on­ly ones whose tu­mors had high ex­pres­sion of both CD73 and PD-L1 — bio­mark­ers that I-Mab will like­ly start us­ing to screen and strat­i­fy pa­tients for fu­ture tri­als.

Zang not­ed that they will con­tin­ue mon­i­tor­ing pa­tients this tri­al (there are 20 in to­tal), while al­so test­ing uliledlimab in a Chi­nese Phase II tri­al to­geth­er with Jun­shi’s PD-1 Tuoyi, look­ing at non-small cell lung can­cer as well as oth­er metasta­t­ic can­cers. Oth­er com­bos are on the ta­ble.

Al­though he ac­knowl­edges that Ar­cus’ da­ta — with the first cut sug­gest­ing a 41% ORR — look promis­ing, Zang be­lieves an­ti­bod­ies are bet­ter at pro­vid­ing the per­sis­tent and com­plete in­hi­bi­tion need­ed to shut down a tar­get that’s ex­pressed abun­dant­ly as CD73. The an­swers ul­ti­mate­ly will have to come in fu­ture tri­als.

“We’re mov­ing for­ward with full speed,” he said.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

Sanofi, GSK tout 72% Omi­cron ef­fi­ca­cy in PhI­II tri­al of next-gen, bi­va­lent shot — with an eye to year-end roll­out

Sometimes, being late can give you an advantage.

That’s what Sanofi and GSK are trying to say as the Big Pharma partners report positive results from a late-stage trial of their next-gen bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against both the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Beta variant. Specifically, against Omicron, they note, the vaccine delivered 72% efficacy in all adults and 93.2% in those previously infected.

Matt Kapusta, uniQure CEO

In trou­bled Hunt­ing­ton’s space, uniQure’s gene ther­a­py shows ear­ly promise

In randomized clinical trial data from a small number of patients, Dutch biotech uniQure shared that its gene therapy for Huntington’s disease seems to reduce the amount of the mutant protein responsible for the disease over the course of a year.

In seven patients with early-stage Huntington’s — four who got the treatment and three who got a placebo — mutant huntingtin protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid decreased by an average of just over 50% in patients who got the gene therapy compared to around a 17% drop in patients who got the placebo after a year.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.