Af­ter a painful stum­ble, As­traZeneca gets top check­point can­cer pro­gram back on track

The FDA has lift­ed the par­tial hold it dropped on As­traZeneca’s top pipeline drug dur­val­um­ab a month ago, al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients with head and neck can­cer for two key late-stage tri­als.

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot

Play­ing catch-up with Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Roche, the par­tial hold in Oc­to­ber rat­tled in­vestors, rais­ing a red flag that dragged the phar­ma gi­ant a bit fur­ther be­hind in one of the most com­pet­i­tive R&D fields in bio­phar­ma. But reg­u­la­tors agreed to get the stud­ies back on track with no change in pro­to­cols, ev­i­dent­ly sat­is­fied that the bleed­ing episodes that trig­gered the hold posed no spe­cial threat to oth­ers.

Head and neck can­cer is of­ten linked to bleed­ing episodes. In this case re­searchers have been study­ing both dur­val­um­ab — As­traZeneca’s great block­buster hope — as well as treme­li­mum­ab in a so­lo and com­bo stud­ies,

Re­sum­ing en­roll­ment, though, isn’t just a mat­ter of hang­ing an ‘open’ sign out in front of the clin­ic. While one of the tri­als called KESTREL has al­ready be­gun to ac­cept new pa­tients at some sites, in­ves­ti­ga­tors will have to pro­gres­sive­ly roll out the re­newed re­cruit­ment ef­fort, with reg­u­la­tors and ethics com­mit­tees first sign­ing off in their re­spec­tive ju­ris­dic­tions where re­quired.

Soon af­ter As­traZeneca was forced to hit the brakes on head and neck can­cer, Mer­ck gained an ap­proval for the use of Keytru­da for that in­di­ca­tion. That quick­ly killed any re­main­ing hopes As­traZeneca may have had for a quick OK of dur­val­um­ab alone.

The phar­ma gi­ant has been steadi­ly read­just­ing its sights on the check­point mar­ket, falling far be­hind ri­vals. Its ma­jor hope now lies in gain­ing com­bi­na­tion OKs that can give it a quick, though per­haps short-lived, com­mer­cial edge. The com­pa­ny has ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ries of painful set­backs over the past year which has been slow­ly killing ex­pec­ta­tions that As­traZeneca can ever live up to the bright pic­ture CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot paint­ed for in­vestors more than two years ago.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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