As­traZeneca ax­es an­oth­er R&D track on dur­val­um­ab af­ter once again falling be­hind ri­vals

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot

It’s not easy be­ing fourth.

The R&D team at As­traZeneca had thought that its sin­gle-arm study for its Phase II tri­al of the PD-L1 check­point dur­val­um­ab might have of­fered a short­cut to an ap­proval for sec­ond-line head and neck can­cer. But Mer­ck eas­i­ly beat them to the mar­ket with Keytru­da for head and neck with a nod in Au­gust and now Bris­tol-My­ers is breath­ing down its neck in the hope that they can cat­a­pult ahead — which would be wel­come af­ter the em­bar­rass­ing lung can­cer de­ba­cle.

So now As­traZeneca says it is scrap­ping plans to file for an ear­ly ap­proval in the in­di­ca­tion, un­like­ly to find reg­u­la­tors in­ter­est­ed in speed­ing an OK. Da­ta are ex­pect­ed this quar­ter, but don’t look for any quick pub­lic dis­cus­sion of what in­ves­ti­ga­tors found. The da­ta will be for in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion on­ly, and in “due course,” ac­cord­ing to As­traZeneca’s Q3 wrap-up.

That leaves As­traZeneca play­ing catch-up with three com­bi­na­tion stud­ies in head and neck can­cer, adding the CT­LA-4 treat­ment treme­li­mum­ab with dur­val­um­ab. But the R&D team has run in­to a de­lay here as well af­ter the FDA opt­ed to drop a par­tial hold on the com­bos a cou­ple of weeks ago.

The par­tial hold was in­sti­tut­ed af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked bleed­ing events in the Phase III pro­gram. But the com­pa­ny cau­tions that all oth­er stud­ies in oth­er can­cers are pro­ceed­ing as planned, not­ing that such bleed­ing events are not un­usu­al in head and neck can­cer.

That said, As­traZeneca can ill af­ford any de­lays in the de­vel­op­ment of dur­val­um­ab/treme­li­mum­ab now. The com­pa­ny al­ready de­layed its de­vel­op­ment time­line for the check­point in­hibitor to al­low for com­bi­na­tion stud­ies, which As­traZeneca is count­ing on to make a splash with a late ar­rival in the field.

Now its chief hope in the field lies in get­ting its com­bo ap­proach to reg­u­la­tors for first-line non-small cell lung can­cer, ahead of a com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy from Bris­tol-My­ers. The first piv­otal late-stage da­ta are ex­pect­ed in H1 2017.

It’s been a rough year for As­traZeneca, which has suf­fered a string of set­backs in 2016. And it’s not get­ting any eas­i­er. Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers and Roche all beat the com­pa­ny to the mar­ket with im­pres­sive check­points, and the Pfiz­er/Mer­ck KGaA team is al­so play­ing catch-up as well.

As­traZeneca al­so out­lined the lat­est round of pro­grams to get cut out of the pipeline to­day. The scrap heap list in­clud­ed inebi­lizum­ab, its an­ti-CD19 an­ti­body, for dif­fuse large B cell lym­phoma, ME­DI3617 — a se­lec­tive an­giopoi­etin-2 in­hibitor — for sol­id tu­mors and cedi­ranib for PSR ovar­i­an can­cer. Back in Sep­tem­ber As­traZeneca pulled its ap­pli­ca­tion at the EMA for cedi­ranib, say­ing that reg­u­la­tors had some dif­fer­ing opin­ions on the drug’s safe­ty/ben­e­fit ra­tio.

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot prefers to sweep away set­backs in foot­notes, re­serv­ing the head­line treat­ment for new pipeline ad­vances. To­day, though, the im­pact of gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion con­tin­ued to sav­age the phar­ma gi­ant’s rev­enue num­bers, set­ting a bleak back­ground for So­ri­ot’s trade­mark R&D bull­ish­ness. The com­pa­ny has scored sig­nif­i­cant progress with two new can­cer drugs, Tagris­so and Lyn­parza, but the com­pa­ny is not mak­ing near­ly the progress it promised in­vestors when So­ri­ot fend­ed off a takeover at­tempt by Pfiz­er. As­traZeneca al­so post­ed $674 mil­lion in rev­enue from ex­ter­nal­iza­tion deals done on as­sets that have ei­ther failed to mea­sure up in the clin­ic or no longer fit the com­pa­ny’s com­mer­cial/R&D fo­cus, which leans heav­i­ly on dur­val­um­ab.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

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Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line scraps a LAG3 study, mark­ing an­oth­er fail­ure for the pipeline af­ter a crit­i­cal set­back

Another gap has appeared in GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

Friday morning the Australian biotech Immutep put out word that Hal Barron’s R&D group at GSK had decided to scrap a Phase II proof-of-concept study in ulcerative colitis for their anti-LAG3 therapy GSK2831781. According to the biotech, the program didn’t survive an interim review.

The trial was stopped by GSK based on the assessment of clinical data as part of a planned interim analysis conducted in consultation with the trial’s Data Review Committee. GSK is conducting further reporting, assessment and analyses of the efficacy and safety data and evaluating the biology to determine next steps for the GSK2831781 development program.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

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It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

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