Akcea, Io­n­is win over most FDA ex­perts to their rare dis­ease drug volane­sors­en, vast­ly im­prov­ing odds of suc­cess

Akcea Ther­a­peu­tics $AK­CA faced a tough up­hill bat­tle in search of an ap­proval for their rare dis­ease drug volane­sors­en to­day — and they won.

The FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee vote on the drug — spun out from Io­n­is $IONS — was 12 for, 8 against. The FDA, of course, doesn’t have to go along. But for a rare dis­ease, they usu­al­ly do — par­tic­u­lar­ly un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Akcea’s shares shot up 20% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing on Fri­day, start­ing the day with a $1.8 bil­lion mar­ket cap, while Io­n­is saw a spike of 5%.

FDA reg­u­la­tors didn’t make the task very easy, high­light­ing their deep con­cerns with the sud­den plunge in platelets that af­flict­ed a num­ber of pa­tients through the clin­i­cal tri­als for the drug. In­ves­ti­ga­tors nev­er found a re­li­able way to screen for throm­bo­cy­tope­nia in the tri­al work, and their in­ter­nal re­view plant­ed a red flag on the fact that doc­tors pre­scrib­ing this drug would al­so like­ly be blind­sided by un­ex­pect­ed cas­es.

Io­n­is re­port­ed a lit­tle more that a year ago that it had achieved its ef­fi­ca­cy end­point in Phase III. But five pa­tients were forced out of the tri­al due to a threat­en­ing de­cline in platelet counts. Grade 4 throm­bo­cy­tope­nia oc­curred in three pa­tients, which end­ed af­ter they stopped dos­ing. There were no with­drawals due to platelet counts af­ter the com­pa­ny be­gan mon­i­tor­ing the side ef­fect.

If it does get an OK, those facts on safe­ty are like­ly to haunt the com­pa­ny’s sales ef­forts.

In its fa­vor, though, was a sol­id set of da­ta demon­strat­ing the drug’s ef­fect in reg­u­lat­ing plas­ma triglyc­eride for pa­tients with rare cas­es of fa­mil­ial chy­lomi­crone­mia syn­drome — but with­out the clear clin­i­cal im­pact that would have helped push this drug over the top with big­ger num­bers in its fa­vor.

“We thank all the mem­bers of the Com­mit­tee for their time in con­duct­ing a thor­ough and thought­ful re­view of Waylivra, a new po­ten­tial first and on­ly ther­a­py for peo­ple with fa­mil­ial chy­lomi­crone­mia syn­drome, or FCS. FCS is ul­tra-rare, se­vere and po­ten­tial­ly fa­tal with no ther­a­peu­tic op­tions. The da­ta, in­clud­ing re­sults from two phase three clin­i­cal tri­als, demon­strate clear im­prove­ment on sev­er­al im­por­tant mea­sures of dis­ease in these pa­tients. We be­lieve that these re­sults pro­vide strong sup­port to make Waylivra avail­able to treat peo­ple with FCS,” said Paula Soteropou­los, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Akcea Ther­a­peu­tics. “We look for­ward to work­ing with the FDA to com­plete the fi­nal stages of reg­u­la­to­ry re­view for Waylivra. We are com­mit­ted to the FCS com­mu­ni­ty and will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on bring­ing Waylivra to peo­ple suf­fer­ing with this dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease.”

 

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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UP­DAT­ED: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million Series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017.  Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer and Amarin.

UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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