An ex­plo­sion of PD-1/L1 check­point stud­ies is crowd­ing the in­dus­try pipeline — and that’s a prob­lem

WASH­ING­TON, DC — The Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute has been do­ing the math on the PD-1/L1 check­point pipeline, and you might not be­lieve what we’re see­ing now in terms of clin­i­cal re­search pro­grams.


Samir Khleif

In a dis­cus­sion here at the So­ci­ety for Im­munother­a­py of Can­cer meet­ing, Samir Khleif, an im­muno-on­col­o­gist and SITC board mem­ber, laid out the num­bers from the CRI.

With 5 check­points on the mar­ket, there are now 164 dif­fer­ent check­point ther­a­pies be­ing stud­ied from the pre­clin­i­cal through late-stage phase. There are three more right now in Phase III — REGN-2810 from Sanofi/Re­gen­eron, PDR001 from No­var­tis and INC­SHR-1210 from In­cyte/Jiang­su Hen­grui — and 9 in Phase II.

CRI counts 1,502 clin­i­cal tri­als un­der­way in­volv­ing a PD-1/L1, with 1,105 com­bo stud­ies in the pipeline. Quite a few of those tri­als might well pay off, Khleif not­ed, but here’s the prob­lem:

“We are not on the right path,” Khleif tells me. “Cur­rent­ly there are a lot of com­bi­na­tion clin­i­cal tri­als and some of those tri­als are not based on sci­ence.”

Log­ic may lead you to be­lieve that PD-1/L1 com­bined with just about any­thing else will work bet­ter, he says. But that isn’t al­ways so. You might think that a check­point and OX40 would work to­geth­er, he used by way of ex­am­ple, by elim­i­nat­ing the sup­pres­sive en­vi­ron­ment in the tu­mor. But the com­bi­na­tion ac­tu­al­ly in­hibits im­mune re­sponse, he says, which has been shown in an­i­mal stud­ies.

The gold rush on I/O, though, is caus­ing bio­phar­mas and re­searchers to rush in­to tri­als where they haven’t done the sci­ence to check and see if they have a rea­son­able chance of suc­cess.

In the mean­time, he adds, it’s be­come hard­er and hard­er to find can­cer pa­tients for these stud­ies. “We’re go­ing to have prob­lems re­cruit­ing pa­tients any way,” Khleif says, mak­ing it all that more im­por­tant to make sure that pro­grams aren’t rushed in­to the clin­ic.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of face plants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

Joshua Liang, Clover Biopharmaceuticals CEO

With world still in sore need of dos­es, Clover says its Covid-19 vac­cine is 67% ef­fec­tive in Phase III

With concerns about the Delta variant rising and much of the world still in desperate need of vaccine doses, a Chinese biotech announced Wednesday that a new shot has shown positive results in a large trial against Covid-19, including new variants.

Clover Biopharmaceuticals announced Wednesday that its vaccine candidate showed 79% efficacy against the Delta variant in a Phase II/III trial dubbed Spectra, and 67% effective against Covid-19 overall.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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