As­traZeneca, Am­gen roll up a 'break­through' at the FDA in hot pur­suit of a po­ten­tial game chang­er in asth­ma

By this point, the nov­el­ty of the FDA’s break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion has large­ly been worn away by a drum­beat of an­nounce­ments for new ad­di­tions to the pro­gram. But As­traZeneca and Am­gen just land­ed one that de­serves a clos­er look.

Bahi­ja Jal­lal

Reg­u­la­tors have hand­ed the big league part­ners VIP sta­tus for a se­vere asth­ma drug called teze­pelum­ab. As al­ways, BTD gives them ready ac­cess to FDA in­sid­ers who are now pledged to help push this through to a speedy con­clu­sion. And we know now that that promise is worth some­thing.

What makes this drug a stand­out is its abil­i­ty to tar­get thymic stro­mal lym­phopoi­etin — TSLP – an up­stream mod­u­la­tor of mul­ti­ple in­flam­ma­to­ry path­ways like IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13.

In a Phase IIb read­out, treat­ment-re­sis­tant pa­tients demon­strat­ed re­duc­tions of 61% to 71% in their an­nu­al ex­ac­er­ba­tion rate. And that has ex­ecs at both of the phar­ma com­pa­nies stoked that this drug could be worth bil­lions if it reach­es the mar­ket.

Bahi­ja Jal­lal, who runs As­traZeneca’s big sub­sidiary Med­Im­mune, has called the re­sults “un­prece­dent­ed,” and Leerink’s Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez pegged peak po­ten­tial sales at $4.5 bil­lion. That could ar­rive soon­er than lat­er, he added, de­pend­ing on the FDA’s will­ing­ness to let this study stand as a reg­is­tra­tional land­mark that would al­low for a con­fir­ma­to­ry Phase III to of­fer enough ev­i­dence wor­thy of ap­proval.

Asth­ma, though, is not can­cer. Late-stage pro­grams in the field of­ten run in­to years. And there’s no fi­nal word from the com­pa­nies on their Phase III pro­gram, or whether reg­u­la­tors will need to see da­ta from dose-rang­ing stud­ies be­fore they give their de­ci­sion. But the de­vel­op­ers’ chances of be­ing put on the in­side track just got bet­ter.

Both Am­gen and As­traZeneca — which has been stag­ger­ing through a set of fresh set­backs out­side of the on­col­o­gy group — could use a big OK. And while there are no guar­an­tees that reg­u­la­tors will play along here, they just took an im­por­tant step for­ward along the road to a po­ten­tial block­buster OK.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

President Trump walks past HHS secretary Alex Azar (Getty Images)

Azar falls in line un­der Trump again. Ex­perts say he's re­in­forc­ing a dark sig­nal sent to the FDA

In the latest incident where Alex Azar has steadfastly taken the side of President Donald Trump over that of the FDA, the HHS secretary was noncommittal this morning when asked if he supports the attempt by his subordinates at the FDA to strengthen guidelines for a vaccine EUA.

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, the HHS secretary muddied the waters, stating that the guidance that matters is the one that is “actually already out there.”

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (AP Images)

An­drew Cuo­mo says New York will un­der­take its own vac­cine re­view process, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend trust­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment

The concerns keep mounting over President Donald Trump’s politicization of the FDA and other federal agencies guiding the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And today, the telegenic New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to introduce even more politics into the matter — latest in an ongoing series of incidents that have cast the proudly independent FDA in starkly political terms.

During his daily press conference Cuomo said that the state will review any coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, citing a lack of trust of the Trump administration. The announcement comes one day after Trump accused the FDA of making an “extremely political” move in proposing stricter vaccine guidance.

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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Covid-19 roundup: Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed's 7th vac­cine is live at­ten­u­at­ed; Small biotech touts big suc­cess where gi­ants have failed

Operation Warp Speed is stacking its vaccine portfolio with a “TBD” new candidate: a live attenuated vaccine that can be administered in a single dose, potentially as an oral formulation rather than an injection.

Sound familiar?

That could be because the unannounced candidate appears to match the profile of an inoculation being developed by Merck, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the development based on a presentation by Moncef Slaoui.

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On­ly five months af­ter a Se­ries A launch, Taysha goes pub­lic with $157M IPO

As has been the trend in 2020, Taysha Gene Therapies has become the latest biotech to make a quick ascent from a small, privately-funded company to enjoying its very own Nasdaq ticker.

The Dallas-based biotech raised $157 million for its IPO after pricing shares at $20 apiece Thursday, the high-point of its expected range. Initially pegging $100 million in financing, Taysha offered a little less than 8 million shares and will trade under the $TSHA symbol.

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CDC’s Robert Redfield, NIAID’s Anthony Fauci, Admiral Brett Giroir at HHS, and FDA’s Stephen Hahn prepare to testify at a House hearing on June 23 (Getty)

'Ex­treme­ly po­lit­i­cal' — Trump neuters FDA's at­tempt to strength­en vac­cine EUA

Stephen Hahn went before a Senate committee Wednesday and declared he’s fighting. “Every one of the decisions we have reached has been made by career FDA scientists based on science and data, not politics,” he exclaimed, adding that “FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that. I will fight for science.”

A few hours later, he was undermined by President Donald Trump when a reporter asked if he was okay with stricter vaccine guidelines that the FDA was said to be cooking up. “That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” he decided.

David Berry (Flagship)

Flag­ship's next big tech­no­log­i­cal bet? The cloud

Earlier this month, Flagship announced their big bet on the software half the industry is talking about, launching the AI and machine learning startup. Now, they and a couple other investors are gambling $100 million on a software that much of the public generally thinks of as a cool, IT afterthought: cloud computing.

The idea, says founder and Flagship partner David Berry, is one of scale: The sheer magnitude of biological data that you can store on cloud technology is unprecedented. And that size, when leveraged properly, can allow you to ask questions and form insights that are similarly unprecedented.

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Laura Shawver (Silverback Therapeutics)

Fol­low­ing a hefty Se­ries B, Sil­ver­back Ther­a­peu­tics quick­ly pulls in $85M for 'an im­por­tant growth phase'

Months after reeling in a $78 million Series B round, Silverback Therapeutics has hooked an even larger Series C.

The Seattle-based company announced Wednesday that it netted $85 million from a slate of new and previous investors. The quick boost could be a sign that an IPO is on the way.

In an email, Silverback CEO Laura Shawver told me she was “not able to provide any additional comments about Silverback” beyond what was shared in the company’s news release. In the prepared statement, she said the company is at “an important growth phase.”