Al­ny­lam spot­lights just how good the ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta are for givosir­an — tamp­ing down on safe­ty con­cerns

Al­ny­lam $AL­NY took an­oth­er turn on its tran­si­tion lap to a ful­ly fledged com­mer­cial biotech to­day, post­ing its de­tailed — and very promis­ing — ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for their RNAi drug givosir­an while hop­ing to tamp down the fret­ting over safe­ty is­sues that spoiled their ear­li­er top-line an­nounce­ment.

We knew go­ing in­to the Eu­ro­pean As­so­ci­a­tion for the Study of the Liv­er meet­ing in Vi­en­na that the drug had a great p val­ue — now backed up by a 90% me­di­an re­duc­tion in at­tacks of acute he­pat­ic por­phyr­ia, a painful and de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness with no cur­rent­ly ap­proved ther­a­pies. Half of the pa­tients end­ed at­tack free, which would make this a no-brain­er for reg­u­la­tors.

What rat­tled some of the an­a­lysts last time was that the rate of se­ri­ous ad­verse events in the drug arm was more than twice what was seen in the place­bo group. A se­ri­ous safe­ty sig­nal could ham­per or tor­pe­do any drug, and in­deed we learned that sev­er­al of the pa­tients ex­pe­ri­enced se­ri­ous is­sues trig­gered by the ther­a­py. Specif­i­cal­ly, this in­volved cas­es of chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease, pyrex­ia and ab­nor­mal liv­er func­tion test.

Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore, though, says that with this drug for this dis­ease in these pa­tients, it will pass muster to soon be­come Al­ny­lam’s sec­ond ap­proved ther­a­py — a land­mark event for a com­pa­ny that has be­come a stan­dard-set­ter for many of the de­vel­op­ment-stage com­pa­nies hop­ing to tran­si­tion in­to mar­ket­ing one day.

Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore Get­ty Im­ages

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

“This is a dis­ease that’s about as bad as it gets,” Maraganore told me in a pre­view of to­day’s pre­sen­ta­tion. “It is a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble dis­ease, and ob­vi­ous­ly when you look at the ben­e­fit it’s pret­ty over­whelm­ing.”

Maraganore knows that 2 cas­es of CKD won’t go un­no­ticed by any­one, but in bal­anc­ing the risk/ben­e­fit, he says there’s no doubt that the drug will get a green light. Be­sides, he adds, these pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly have a high risk of kid­ney dis­ease and liv­er is­sues, which reg­u­la­tors will cer­tain­ly take in­to ac­count.

As for pa­tients, he says, the da­ta speak for them­selves, with 93 of 94 pa­tients go­ing on to en­roll in the ex­ten­sion pe­ri­od of the study.

“We couldn’t be more hap­py about the da­ta,” he adds. “If my daugh­ter had this dis­ease I wouldn’t hes­i­tate for a nanosec­ond” to get her on the drug. And then he threw his moth­er and him­self in­to that sce­nario. 

Every­body gets the drug.

That has Jef­feries? Mau­ry Ray­croft fore­cast­ing $600 mil­lion in peak sales by 2030. He adds:

For us, there were no sur­pris­es at EASL, and as a re­sult we are more con­fi­dent in gi­vo’s over­all pro­file and po­ten­tial. The ph.III in­ves­ti­ga­tor and AL­NY be­lieve the drug can be used broad­ly in AHP; add’ly, both AL­NY and the in­ves­ti­ga­tor an­tic­i­pate re­sults will con­tin­ue to im­prove.

Some of the ob­servers ear­li­er al­so weren’t too hap­py about a mixed set of sec­ondary end­points, with the ther­a­py scor­ing for sev­er­al bio­mark­ers of the dis­ease but falling short of sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance on sec­on­daries like pain and fa­tigue and nau­sea, what pa­tients are feel­ing.

Maraganore con­ced­ed those points but coun­tered that you don’t have to hit every sec­ondary to get an ap­proval — true enough — and that a set of pa­tient-re­port­ed out­comes in­di­cat­ed that 89% re­port­ed an im­prove­ment on ther­a­py com­pared to 37% on place­bo.

Maraganore is like­ly right about the caveats. No ther­a­py is per­fect, and reg­u­la­tors will bend over back­wards on side ef­fects if they can get a treat­ment for this dis­ease. That leaves Al­ny­lam com­ing out of EASL with a time­line that an­tic­i­pates an ap­proval by this time next year.

As of now, they’re odds-on fa­vorites for an ap­proval.

Im­age: Kristof­fer Trip­plaar for SIPA AP

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.