Are­na bounces back. Stock soars on ozan­i­mod ri­val's PhII suc­cess

Its di­et pill was a com­mer­cial flop that al­most sent Are­na to the grave. Now — with its sec­ond pipeline drug re­port­ing pos­i­tive mid-stage da­ta — Are­na is mak­ing a come­back.

Af­ter a rocky few years that in­clud­ed mas­sive lay­offs, com­pa­ny­wide re­struc­tur­ing, and an oblit­er­at­ed stock, Are­na now has a fresh pipeline with two drugs that have pro­duced sol­id Phase II da­ta. The San Diego com­pa­ny’s stock $AR­NA, once in the gut­ter, has more than dou­bled since this time last year.

Amit Mun­shi

The stock price flew up 25% overnight fol­low­ing news late Mon­day that its ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis drug etrasi­mod proved promis­ing in a Phase II study. The once-dai­ly oral drug is a S1P re­cep­tor mod­u­la­tor that works much like the block­buster hope­ful ozan­i­mod. That drug was the sub­ject of Cel­gene’s $7.2 bil­lion buy­out of an­oth­er San Diego com­pa­ny, Re­cep­tos, and has been tout­ed as $1 bil­lion-plus per year as­set. Its fu­ture, how­ev­er, is un­clear af­ter the FDA kicked back Cel­gene’s mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion just last month.

In a lengthy con­ver­sa­tion last year, Are­na’s CEO Amit Mun­shi told me its drug etrasi­mod was like ozano­mid… but bet­ter. “We be­lieve it’s safer and po­ten­tial­ly more ef­fi­ca­cious (than ozan­i­mod),” Mun­shi said.

In the re­cent Phase II study, Are­na re­port­ed pa­tients on the 2-mg dose of the drug had sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments over the place­bo in all pri­ma­ry, sec­ondary, and clin­i­cal re­mis­sion end­points.

Some in­vestors, how­ev­er, wor­ry the FDA’s re­cent re­ac­tion to ozan­i­mod might sig­nal safe­ty is­sues and a po­ten­tial class ef­fect that would cast a shad­ow on etrasi­mod. Biotech an­a­lysts at Leerink, though, see no rea­son to jump to that con­clu­sion.

We don’t think this is the case, or else they would have re­port­ed it by now, giv­en its ma­te­ri­al­i­ty. Man­age­ment has pre­vi­ous­ly spo­ken of S1P re­cep­tors 2 and 3 con­tribut­ing to car­diac, pul­monary, and pos­si­ble tu­mor-re­lat­ed risks. As a re­sult, ac­tiv­i­ty of S1P re­cep­tor mod­u­la­tors will man­i­fest un­want­ed car­diac AEs un­less the com­pound has se­lec­tiv­i­ty. Etrasi­mod has been de­signed to se­lec­tive­ly tar­get re­cep­tors 1, 4, and 5 for clin­i­cal ef­fi­ca­cy while avoid­ing 2 and 3. Sup­port­ing this claim, Are­na did not see any sub­stan­tial heart rate ef­fects in their Phase I study, which is re­flect­ed in the lack of dose titra­tion in the cur­rent Phase II study. Thus, al­though some in­vestors in­ter­pret the re­cent refuse-to-file let­ter for Ozan­i­mod to be due to safe­ty and a po­ten­tial class ef­fect, we con­tin­ue to think etrasi­mod could be dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed.

Pre­ston Klassen

Are­na is mov­ing the drug for­ward, not­ing that it would pur­sue new im­mune-re­lat­ed ap­pli­ca­tions for etrasi­mod, da­ta per­mit­ting. That means Are­na’s pipeline, once a one-trick pony with the com­mer­cial flop Belviq on cen­ter stage, is be­com­ing more ro­bust. In ad­di­tion to etrasi­mod, Are­na has a pul­monary ar­te­r­i­al hy­per­ten­sion drug, ra­linepag, which put up pos­i­tive Phase II da­ta last Ju­ly. The biotech plans to take that pro­gram in­to Phase III tri­als. The com­pa­ny al­so has a mid-stage cannabi­noid 2 re­cep­tor pain drug, APD3771, for pain as­so­ci­at­ed with Crohn’s dis­ease.

“We be­lieve these da­ta sup­port pro­ceed­ing to a Phase II pro­gram in ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis and con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to un­der­stand the broad po­ten­tial util­i­ty of etrasi­mod in oth­er im­mune and in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases with sig­nif­i­cant un­met needs,” said Pre­ston Klassen, Are­na’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of R&D and chief med­ical of­fi­cer. “Along with the pos­i­tive Phase II re­sults for ra­linepag re­port­ed last year, this im­por­tant mile­stone for the com­pa­ny fur­ther am­pli­fies our con­vic­tion in Are­na’s in­ter­nal­ly dis­cov­ered and de­vel­oped com­pounds and their po­ten­tial to be best-in-class.”

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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Paul Sekhri

The next big biotech su­per­star? Paul Sekhri has some thoughts on that

It occasionally occurs to Paul Sekhri that if they pull this off, his company will be on the front page of the New York Times and a lead story in just about every major news outlet on the planet. He tries not to dwell on it, though.

“I just want to be laser-focused on getting to that point,” Sekhri says, before acknowledging, “Yes, it absolutely crossed my mind.”

Sekhri, a longtime biopharma executive with tenures at Sanofi and Novartis, is now entering year three as CEO of eGenesis, the biotech that George Church protégé Luhan Yang founded to genetically alter pigs so that they can be used for organ transplants. He led them through one megaround and has just closed another, raising $125 million from 17 different investors to push the first-ever (humanized) pig to human transplants into the clinic.

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Amit Munshi, Arena

One of Are­na's top drugs flops in a PhI­Ib study for IBS pain. But re­searchers tease out a pos­si­ble path for­ward as CEO ex­plores 's­trate­gic op­tion­s'

Four years ago, when Arena CEO Amit Munshi cut its ties to a troubled weight drug and doubled down on the pipeline, a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist figured prominently in the biotech’s future. On Tuesday evening, however, Munshi’s high hopes for the drug took a nasty hit after it failed a Phase IIb study for patients with irritable bowel syndrome pain.

Put through a randomized pace with 273 patients, researchers said it flat failed the primary endpoint among the large group with abdominal pain. But they quickly went on to highlight subgroup data, always a tricky and controversial ploy, where they spotlighted a positive p value for patients with moderate to severe pain who received the high dose of the drug — one of 3 provided in the study.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

With stars aligned and cash in re­serve, Bob Nelsen's Re­silience plans a makeover at 2 new fa­cil­i­ty ad­di­tions to its drug man­u­fac­tur­ing up­start

Bob Nelsen’s new, state-of-the-art drug manufacturing initiative is taking shape.

Just 3 months after gathering $800 million of launch money, a dream team board and a plan to shake up a field where he found too many bottlenecks and inefficiencies for the era of Covid-19, Resilience has snapped up a pair of facilities now in line for a retooling.

The company has acquired a 310,000-square-foot plant in Boston from Sanofi along with a 136,000-square-foot plant in Ontario to add to a network which CEO Rahul Singhvi says is just getting started on building his company’s operations up. The Sanofi deal comes with a contract to continue manufacturing one of its drugs.

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CEO Marco Taglietti (Scynexis)

'N­ev­er been more ur­gent:' Scynex­is looks to tack­le su­per­bug cri­sis with late-stage read­out for an­ti­fun­gal hope­ful

As the superbug crisis heats up around the world, Scynexis says it has new data from two interim analyses that prove its antifungal has the potential to treat a broad range of infections.

“The need for new anti-infectives capable of fighting the most resistant pathogens has never been more urgent as we confront the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” CEO Marco Taglietti said in a statement.

A spot­light schiz­o­phre­nia drug in Neu­ro­crine's $2B Take­da deal flunks its first ma­jor test. But it's not giv­ing up yet

When Takeda spun out a pipeline of experimental psychiatry drugs to Neurocrine in a $2 billion deal amid a post-merger shakeout, R&D chief Andy Plump described the therapies as “very interesting but still difficult.”

On Tuesday, we got some idea of how difficult.

San Diego-based Neurocrine revealed that one of the three spotlight clinical programs they’d acquired failed the primary endpoint in a Phase II trial for schizophrenia, registering a negative outcome on the change from baseline in the positive and negative syndrome scale/negative symptom factor score (PANSS NSFS).

Af­ter bail­ing on Covid-19 vac­cines, Mer­ck will team up with J&J to pro­duce its shot as part of un­usu­al Big Phar­ma pact

Merck took a big gamble when it opted to jump into the Covid-19 vaccine race late, and made an equally momentous decision to back out in late January. Now, looking to chip in on the effort, Merck reportedly agreed to team up with one of the companies that has already crossed the finish line.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce a partnership between drugmakers Merck and Johnson & Johnson to jointly produce J&J’s recombinant protein Covid-19 vaccine that received the FDA’s emergency use authorization Saturday, the Washington Post reported.

Ab­b­Vie tees up a biotech buy­out af­ter siz­ing up their Parkin­son's drug spun out of Ke­van Shokat's lab

AbbVie has teed up a small but intriguing biotech buyout after looking over the preclinical work it’s been doing in Parkinson’s disease.

The company is called Mitokinin, a Bay Area biotech spun out of the lab of UCSF’s Kevan Shokat, whose scientific explorations have formed the academic basis of a slew of startups in the biotech hub. One of Shokat’s PhD students in the lab, Nicholas Hertz, co-founded Mitokinin using their lab work on PINK1 suggesting that amping up its activity could play an important role in regulating the mitochondrial dysfunction contributing to Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis and progression.

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Fi­bro­Gen shares skid low­er as a sur­prise ad­comm rais­es risks on roxa OK

FibroGen will likely have to delay its US rollout for roxadustat once again.

In an unexpected move, the FDA is convening its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee to review the NDA in an advisory committee meeting. The date is yet to be confirmed.

Just a few weeks ago, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges predicted that the roxa approval could come ahead of the PDUFA date on March 20 — effusive despite already being let down once by the FDA’s extension of its review back in December. AstraZeneca, which is partnered with FibroGen on the chronic kidney disease-related anemia drug, disclosed regulators had requested further clarifying analyses of clinical data.