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.”

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Jan van de Winkel, Genmab CEO

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, Gen­mab turn on TV for a high­light reel in cer­vi­cal can­cer — but a ri­val biotech promis­es a bet­ter show

Seattle Genetics $SGEN and their partners at Genmab $GMAB polished up some positive Phase II numbers for their antibody drug conjugate tisotumab vedotin — you can call it TV — for recurrent cervical cancer. And while they mapped out a shortcut to a potential quick approval, the big challenge for this team is being presented by a rival biotech which muscled its way into the spotlight for the same indication a year ago.

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Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.