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.”

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

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Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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Covid-19 roundup: Bris­tol My­ers sus­pends clin­i­cal tri­als, grounds field team; Vir ush­ers an­ti­body can­di­dates to hu­man test­ing

The global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is manifesting more profoundly every day. With Spain’s death toll now surpassing China’s and India on full lockdown, the number of confirmed cases around the world has exceeded 436,000 while recoveries edged close to 112,000.

While the outbreak derails R&D at another pharma giant, several drugmakers have some encouraging updates on both experimental and repurposed molecules. Philanthropic campaigns in anticipation of the economic fallout continue. An Australian biotech is taking extreme measures to hunker down. There’s also an alternative epidemiology model emerging out of the UK, stirring up more discussion regarding the true extent of the infections in the country.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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