An­oth­er PhI­II #fail for Bris­tol-My­ers’ star drug rais­es fresh ques­tions about their R&D strat­e­gy as Mer­ck surges fur­ther ahead

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY has a fresh Phase III set­back to re­port to­day on its all-im­por­tant PD-1 drug Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant says that their drug com­bined with ra­di­a­tion failed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­prove the over­all sur­vival rate of glioblas­toma pa­tients com­pared to a con­trol group re­ceiv­ing chemo plus ra­di­a­tion.

As usu­al, re­searchers will hold back the da­ta for a fu­ture con­fer­ence, but Check­Mate-498 is an­oth­er write-off.

“GBM is a no­to­ri­ous­ly ag­gres­sive can­cer,” notes Bris­tol-My­ers on­col­o­gy R&D chief Fouad Namouni, who ex­pressed their dis­ap­point­ment with the fail­ure.

Fouad Namouni

Op­di­vo earned $1.8 bil­lion in Q1 alone for Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, a 19% gain over the same pe­ri­od a year ago. That’s no small ac­com­plish­ment in bio­phar­ma, but it al­so marks a sec­ond place po­si­tion be­hind an in­creas­ing­ly dom­i­nant Mer­ck — $2.3 bil­lion in Q1, up 55% — which has had far more suc­cess­es to re­port from the R&D group.

It’s un­like­ly that any of the an­a­lysts had much up­side built in for glioblas­toma, the most com­mon brain can­cer which has proven to be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to slow down. So don’t look for any dra­mat­ic stock moves. On the oth­er hand, the phar­ma gi­ant has been plagued by set­backs in the clin­ic. 

The com­pa­ny had to yank its ap­pli­ca­tion us­ing a high tu­mor mu­ta­tion­al bur­den af­ter get­ting some neg­a­tive feed­back from the FDA. Their com­bo ap­proach us­ing Yer­voy failed in non-small cell lung can­cer, and that fol­lowed a fail­ure against the stan­dard of care for sec­ond-line small cell lung can­cer. A brain can­cer flop may have been pre­dictable, but it al­so rais­es ques­tions about their R&D strat­e­gy at a time Mer­ck has been ad­vanc­ing with its chemo com­bo ap­proach.

With some key read­outs due on front­line lung can­cer, Bris­tol-My­ers is in a make-or-break po­si­tion with Op­di­vo, with an­a­lysts like Wolfe’s Tim An­der­son won­der­ing if they’re head­ed for a peak in Op­di­vo sales in 2020, fol­lowed by a flat line as com­pe­ti­tion builds around the world. That al­ready may have dri­ven their $74 bil­lion Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion, which will shift fo­cus to a slate of 6 late-stage drugs up for an ap­proval de­ci­sion.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.