Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy treat­ment could 'change prac­tice' — with safe­ty chal­lenges and a price any­thing but peanuts

Aim­mune Ther­a­peu­tics $AIMT has de­tailed the re­sults of its Phase III study of its peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py known as AR101 in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine in an ar­ti­cle — and in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment — that will like­ly stoke its sup­port­ers as much as the skep­tics in the field. 

And once it is mar­ket­ed, if it gets that far, you can ex­pect a se­vere blow­back on the price, con­sid­er­ing this is a nat­ur­al byprod­uct that al­so has been used at the same dose that costs vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing to make — but wouldn’t have the same stamp of ap­proval that a prod­uct OK’d by the FDA would have.

On the bright side, the ar­ti­cle in the NE­JM un­der­scored that a dust­ing of care­ful­ly con­trolled 12% de­fat­ted peanut flour used in the treat­ment did help a broad swathe of 4- to 17-year-old al­ler­gic pa­tients in the study — two thirds to be ex­act — even­tu­al­ly tol­er­ate a dose of up to 4 peanuts with­out the se­vere and pos­si­bly life threat­en­ing re­ac­tion that they could nor­mal­ly ex­pect. That was true of on­ly 4% of place­bo group in the study.

A. Wes­ley Burks

A. Wes­ley Burks, the se­nior au­thor, said that the ther­a­py “could change prac­tice for peanut al­ler­gy.” And they’re just weeks away from fil­ing for an ap­proval at the FDA, with the EMA to fol­low next year.

Looked at in terms of ef­fi­ca­cy alone, their da­ta will get you through to an ap­proval and some high fives all around. But it’s not as sim­ple as that, with some big con­cerns about the na­ture of this prod­uct and the price tag that could make it a block­buster. Crit­ics didn’t over­look the fact that 11.6% of the pa­tients on AR101 dropped out of the study due to side ef­fects, com­pared to 2.4% in the place­bo arm.

Michael Perkin

“This is not some­thing to start at home,” notes Michael Perkin, one of the lead­ing spe­cial­ists in chil­dren’s al­ler­gies, in an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the NE­JM ar­ti­cle. “Ep­i­neph­rine was used by 14.0% of the par­tic­i­pants in the ac­tive-drug group as a re­sult of re­ac­tions to treat­ment. The longer-term side ef­fects of sus­tained con­sump­tion of an al­ler­gen to which the body has pro­duced IgE an­ti­bod­ies re­main un­known. Cur­rent think­ing has fo­cused on eosinophilic dis­ease, such as eosinophilic esophagi­tis, but sur­veil­lance and fol­low-up will be cru­cial.”

“The po­ten­tial mar­ket for these prod­ucts is be­lieved to be bil­lions of dol­lars,” adds Perkin. “It is per­haps salu­tary to con­sid­er that in the study con­duct­ed by the Cam­bridge group (which used a less pre­cise but equiv­a­lent 12% de­fat­ted peanut flour), chil­dren un­der­went de­sen­si­ti­za­tion with a bag of peanut flour cost­ing peanuts.”

The de­tails, and even the crit­i­cism, won’t help Paris-based DBV Tech­nolo­gies make its case for their ri­val al­ler­gy treat­ment, which failed a Phase III tri­al but is still bound to reg­u­la­tors.

Just days ago Nestlé Health Sci­ence upped its bet on Aim­mune Ther­a­peu­tics by $98 mil­lion, with its now $276 mil­lion stake in the com­pa­ny giv­ing it 19% of the biotech’s eq­ui­ty.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.