As­traZeneca, Am­gen whip up some block­buster ex­cite­ment with a pos­si­ble game-chang­ing asth­ma drug

As­traZeneca and Am­gen rolled out Phase IIb da­ta on their late-stage drug teze­pelum­ab late on Wednes­day, spot­light­ing some dra­mat­ic re­sults for a ther­a­py they be­lieve could have megablock­buster po­ten­tial for the broad-based treat­ment of un­con­trolled asth­ma.

Bot­tom line: Treat­ment-re­sis­tant pa­tients in the drug arm tak­ing a med­ley of dos­es saw their an­nu­al ex­ac­er­ba­tion rate slashed any­where from 61% to 71%.

De­vel­oped at As­traZeneca and bound for a com­mer­cial part­ner­ship, re­searchers say the drug was ef­fec­tive be­cause it tar­gets TSLP, an ep­ithe­lial cy­tokine stoked by lung pathogens such as al­ler­gens and virus­es. TSLP in turn trig­gers a ram­page of in­flam­ma­to­ry cy­tokines such as IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13.

By mov­ing up­stream from those tar­gets, the phar­ma gi­ants be­lieve that they may be on to a break­through ap­proach that can leap the more sin­gu­lar­ly-tar­get­ed ri­vals com­ing in­to the mar­ket, seiz­ing bil­lions in new rev­enue.

Bahi­ja Jal­lal

“This broad bio­mark­er re­sponse is un­prece­dent­ed among res­pi­ra­to­ry bi­o­log­ics and re­flects our com­mit­ment to lead­ing res­pi­ra­to­ry sci­ence for un­met med­ical needs,” says Bahi­ja Jal­lal, who runs As­traZeneca’s big sub­sidiary Med­Im­mune, where the re­search work is be­ing done.

That broad-based ap­proach could have a big im­pact on oth­er in­jectable res­pi­ra­to­ry drugs such as GSK’s Nu­cala, Te­va’s Cinqair as well as As­traZeneca’s own ben­ral­izum­ab — which it doesn’t share with Am­gen — and Dupix­ent from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ben­ral­izum­ab is cur­rent­ly un­der re­view and is giv­en a good shot at an ap­proval.

Leerink’s Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez was ex­cit­ed by the da­ta. So ex­cit­ed that he be­lieves these part­ners have a shot at grab­bing an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval on the Phase IIb da­ta while launch­ing Phase III as a con­fir­ma­to­ry study — an ap­proach that could start de­liv­er­ing up to $4.5 bil­lion a year in rev­enue with­in 4-5 years.

His com­ment:

Based on the strength of these da­ta, we be­lieve this tri­al may qual­i­fy as a reg­is­tra­tional study (with the need for a con­fir­ma­to­ry Phase III tri­al for ap­proval), sim­i­lar to the ap­proach that SNY/REGN are tak­ing with Dupix­ent. How­ev­er, this may be de­pen­dent on whether the FDA will want to see ad­di­tion­al dose rang­ing stud­ies to ad­dress ques­tions re­gard­ing safe­ty and the lack of a clear ef­fi­ca­cy dose re­sponse.

Dupix­ent, of course, has al­ready been rack­ing up rev­enue with an es­tab­lished safe­ty pro­file, mak­ing a quick, added OK much eas­i­er for reg­u­la­tors. In this case, reg­u­la­tors are much more like­ly to raise some barbed ques­tions about con­cerns this drug has spurred about its im­pact on the im­mune sys­tem. That is­sue was touched on by Elis­a­beth Bel of Am­s­ter­dam’s Aca­d­e­m­ic Med­ical Cen­ter, who wrote a piece in the NE­JM not­ing the need for safe­ty stud­ies that could care­ful­ly ex­am­ine the in­ter­play be­tween drug and im­mune sys­tem.

Nev­er­the­less, As­traZeneca and Am­gen now have a late-stage drug they can tout as a po­ten­tial block­buster in an in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive field — ex­act­ly what the biotech or­dered for these com­pa­nies as they work to build new rev­enue with game chang­ing ther­a­pies.

That’s a def­i­nite plus.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.

Bris­tol-My­ers star Op­di­vo fails sur­vival test in a matchup with Nex­avar aimed at shak­ing up the big HCC mar­ket

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has suf­fered an­oth­er painful set­back in its years-long quest to ex­pand the reach of Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant this morn­ing not­ed that their Check­mate-459 study com­par­ing Op­di­vo with Bay­er’s Nex­avar in front­line cas­es of he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma — the most com­mon form of liv­er can­cer — failed to hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on over­all sur­vival.

This was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in Bris­tol-My­ers’ tal­ly of PD-1 cat­a­lysts this year. Nex­avar (so­rafenib) has been the stan­dard of care in front­line HCC for the past decade, though Op­di­vo has been mak­ing head­way in sec­ond-line HCC cas­es, where it’s go­ing toe-to-toe with Bay­er’s Sti­var­ga (re­go­rafenib) af­ter re­cent ap­provals shook up the mar­ket.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.