#ASH17: The BC­MA-tar­get­ed CAR-T bb2121 from blue­bird and Cel­gene takes a star turn in the spot­light

A few days ago, Cel­gene $CELG launched the piv­otal Phase II/III study that will dic­tate the fu­ture of the BC­MA-tar­get­ing bb2121, the CAR-T in-li­censed from blue­bird bio $BLUE. And if they come close to the da­ta that blue­bird has on of­fer at ASH this week­end, this drug will go on to blaze a big trail in the mar­ket as the de­vel­op­ers move on to the next big fo­cus in the field of en­gi­neered T cells.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors in the Phase Ib study out­lined a 94% over­all re­sponse rate for bb2121, with a jaw-drop­ping 56% com­plete re­sponse rate among a small group of 18 pa­tients in heav­i­ly pre­treat­ed ac­tive dose co­horts. Three of those 10 CRs, though, were un­con­firmed at the time of the pre­sen­ta­tion in At­lanta.

The me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free re­sponse rate had yet to be reached. But the 6- and 9-month PFS marks were passed with 81% and 71% rates.

Nick Leschly

“This is what we all dream about,” says blue­bird CEO Nick Leschly, “this kind of da­ta for pa­tients that are in a re­al­ly, re­al­ly tough po­si­tion.”

Blue­bird’s stock jumped 24% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing Mon­day, with Cel­gene {$CELG) up close to 5%.

To be sure there was plen­ty of tox­i­c­i­ty on the dose rang­ing study, with an ad­vanced pa­tient with a pun­ish­ing tu­mor bur­den ex­pe­ri­enc­ing grade 4 neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty with cere­bral ede­ma and sub­arach­noid he­m­or­rhage af­ter get­ting the high dose: 450 x 106 CAR+ T cells. And there were a num­ber of cas­es of cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome, a hall­mark of these first gen­er­a­tion CAR-Ts go­ing through the clin­ic.

Cel­gene will now take 150 to 300 mil­lion cell dos­es in­to the land­mark study with about 80 pa­tients, look­ing to see large­ly if it can repli­cate any­thing sim­i­lar. If they are suc­cess­ful, the part­ners can look for­ward to a block­buster mar­ket for one of the most wide­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed late-stage stud­ies in on­col­o­gy.

David David­son

The da­ta un­der­score the po­ten­tial of BC­MA as a tar­get in the field, which is see­ing the first pi­o­neers hit the mar­ket by hit­ting CD19 with ma­jor ef­fect. The da­ta will cer­tain­ly bright­en the stage for blue­bird and Cel­gene, the clear lead­ers in the field, as a bevy of ri­vals fol­low up in hopes of catch­ing or leapfrog­ging the fron­trun­ners.

Juno, mak­ing a CAR-T come­back with JCAR017, just bagged a gam­ma sec­re­tase in­hibitor from Eli Lil­ly for its BM­CA ther­a­py, adding IP agree­ments with the Fred Hutch and On­co­Track­er on their com­bo ap­proach.

But blue­bird isn’t sit­ting still. It’s al­so snap­ping up new tech to keep its cut­ting edge, like the CAR-en­gi­neered gam­ma delta T cell pact it struck with Scot­land’s TC Bio­Pharm a few days ago.

“We’ve got all cylin­ders fir­ing,” says David David­son, the blue­bird chief med­ical of­fi­cer.

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

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Game on: Re­gen­eron's BC­MA bis­pe­cif­ic makes clin­i­cal da­ta de­but, kick­ing off mul­ti­ple myelo­ma matchup with Bris­tol-My­ers

As J&J attempts to jostle past Bristol-Myers Squibb and bluebird for a landmark approval of its anti-BCMA CAR-T — and while GlaxoSmithKline maps a quick path to the FDA riding on its own BCMA-targeting antibody-drug conjugates — the bispecifics are arriving on the scene to stake a claim for a market that could cross $10 billion per year.

The main rivalry in multiple myeloma is shaping up to be one between Regeneron and Bristol-Myers, which picked up a bispecific antibody to BCMA through its recently closed $74 billion takeover of Celgene. Both presented promising first-in-human data at the ASH 2019 meeting.

FDA lifts hold on Abeon­a's but­ter­fly dis­ease ther­a­py, paving way for piv­otal study

It’s been a difficult few years for gene and cell therapy startup Abeona Therapeutics. Its newly crowned chief Carsten Thiel was forced out last year following accusations of unspecified “personal misconduct,” and this September, the FDA imposed a clinical hold on its therapy for a form of “butterfly” disease. But things are beginning to perk up. On Monday, the company said the regulator had lifted its hold and the experimental therapy is now set to be evaluated in a late-stage study.

Paul Hudson. Sanofi

New Sanofi CEO Hud­son adds next-gen can­cer drug tech to the R&D quest, buy­ing Syn­thorx for $2.5B

When Paul Hudson lays out his R&D vision for Sanofi tomorrow, he will have a new slate of interleukin therapies and a synthetic biology platform to boast about.

The French pharma giant announced early Monday that it is snagging San Diego biotech Synthorx in a $2.5 billion deal. That marks an affordable bolt-on for Sanofi but a considerable return for Synthorx backers, including Avalon, RA Capital and OrbiMed: At $68 per share, the price represents a 172% premium to Friday’s closing.

Synthorx’s take on alternative IL-2 drugs for both cancer and autoimmune disorders — enabled by a synthetic DNA base pair pioneered by Scripps professor Floyd Romesberg — “fits perfectly” with the kind of innovation that he wants at Sanofi, Hudson said.

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Roche faces an­oth­er de­lay in strug­gle to nav­i­gate Spark deal past reg­u­la­tors — but this one is very short

Roche today issued the latest in a long string of delays of its $4.3 billion buyout of Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics. The delay comes as little surprise — it is their 10th in as many months — as their most recent delay was scheduled to expire before a key regulatory deadline.

But it is notable for its length: 6 days.

Previous extensions had moved the goalposts by about 3 weeks to a month, with the latest on November 22 expiring tomorrow. The new delay sets a deadline for next Monday, December 16, the same day by which the UK Competition and Markets Authority has to give its initial ruling on the deal. And they already reportedly have lined up an OK from the FTC staff – although that’s only one level of a multi-step process.

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KalVis­ta's di­a­bet­ic mac­u­lar ede­ma da­ta falls short — will Mer­ck walk away?

Merck’s 2017 bet on KalVista Pharmaceuticals may have soured, after the UK/US-based biotech’s lead drug failed a mid-stage study in patients with diabetic macular edema (DME).

Two doses of the intravitreal injection, KVD001, were tested against a placebo in a 129-patient trial. Patients who continued to experience significant inflammation and diminished visual acuity, despite anti-VEGF therapy, were recruited to the trial. Typically patients with DME — the most frequent cause of vision loss related to diabetes — are treated with anti-VEGF therapies such as Regeneron’s flagship Eylea or Roche’s Avastin and Lucentis.

UP­DAT­ED: Ob­sE­va makes case for best-in-class hor­mone sup­pres­sive ther­a­py in pos­i­tive uter­ine fi­broid study

About a month after the Swiss biotech disclosed a failed late-stage study in its IVF program, ObsEva on Monday unveiled positive pivotal data on its experimental treatment for heavy menstrual bleeding triggered by uterine fibroids.

ObsEva in-licensed the drug, linzagolix, from Japan’s Kissei Pharmaceutical in 2015. Two doses of the drug (100 mg and 200 mg) were tested against a placebo in the 535-patient Phase III study, dubbed PRIMROSE 2, in patients who were both on and off hormonal add-back therapy (ABT).

Ear­ly-stage can­cer biotech nails $85M C round; Flem­ming Orn­skov's Gal­der­ma scores 'break­through' sta­tus

→ Zentalis Pharmaceuticals just nabbed an $85 million round from a syndicate that includes Matrix Capital, Viking Global Investors, Redmile Group, Farallon Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Surveyor Capital and Eventide Asset Management. Their lead drug is ZN-c5, which is currently in Phase I/II trials. The biotech describes that drug as a “potential best-in-class oral Selective Estrogen Receptor Degrader for estrogen receptor-positive, HER2-negative (ER+/ HER2-) breast cancer.”