As­traZeneca caps its big win in lung can­cer with pos­i­tive sur­vival da­ta for Imfinzi — and what a re­lief it is

As­traZeneca capped its big win on the land­mark PA­CIF­IC study to­day with the news that its PD-L1 check­point Imfinzi de­liv­ered a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in over­all sur­vival for a key seg­ment of the lung can­cer mar­ket. 

Pas­cal So­ri­ot

The OS score dur­ing an in­ter­im analy­sis is for pa­tients whose stage III non-small cell lung can­cer hasn’t pro­gressed af­ter chemora­di­a­tion and whose tu­mors can’t be sur­gi­cal­ly re­moved. The da­ta here — specifics will fol­low at a con­fer­ence — will help As­traZeneca con­sol­i­date a cru­cial lead spot for it­self, which As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot has boast­ed will put the phar­ma gi­ant in the lead for “half the pool in lung can­cer.”

The FDA has al­ready come through with an OK for As­traZeneca here, un­der­scor­ing that reg­u­la­tors aren’t wait­ing for every i to be dot­ted and every t crossed be­fore get­ting new can­cer drugs to pa­tients and doc­tors.

Dave Fredrick­son

The im­por­tance of the very re­al suc­cess here for So­ri­ot is hard to over­state. The CEO has to cap­i­tal­ize on ad­vances for the can­cer drug port­fo­lio to prove to in­vestors that new drugs can fi­nal­ly pro­vide the fi­nan­cial turn­around that As­traZeneca has to have as the Crestor fran­chise melts away. PA­CIF­IC is blaz­ing a path for a would-be block­buster that can let So­ri­ot prove that.

Just a few days ago Dave Fredrick­son, who heads up the on­col­o­gy busi­ness unit for As­traZeneca, told an­a­lysts that PA­CIF­IC had swift­ly opened up a valu­able mar­ket seg­ment demon­strat­ing some pow­er­ful po­ten­tial. He not­ed:

This has re­sult­ed in a true in­flec­tion point for Imfinzi with sales now at $62 mil­lion in the first quar­ter and re­al­ly the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­i­ty of these com­ing from the lung can­cer in­di­ca­tion. As you saw from a slide that Pas­cal showed in Feb­ru­ary when we launched, we had about 3,500 pa­tient in­fu­sions per month and you could see that we’ve now dou­bled in the most re­cent month to 7,000 pa­tient in­fu­sions per month, re­al­ly show­ing that the un­der­ly­ing pa­tient de­mand is the dri­ver of these sales. 

Sean Bo­hen

The suc­cess in this seg­ment gives As­traZeneca’s can­cer team added cred­i­bil­i­ty for un­der­stand­ing how to score a strate­gic ad­vance in an in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive field, with Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers tus­sling for dom­i­nance in front­line lung can­cer. Com­ing on the heels of the em­bar­rass­ing first-round MYS­TIC fail­ure, it al­so of­fered an en­cour­ag­ing en­dorse­ment for the com­pa­ny’s R&D com­pe­tence.

As­traZeneca CMO Sean Bo­hen said: “The read­out of pos­i­tive over­all sur­vival da­ta at the in­ter­im analy­sis of the PA­CIF­IC tri­al pro­vides ad­di­tion­al com­pelling ev­i­dence of the clin­i­cal ben­e­fit that Imfinzi can of­fer pa­tients in this ear­li­er stage of lung can­cer.”

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.

Arde­lyx bags its first FDA OK for IBS, set­ting up a show­down with Al­ler­gan, Iron­wood

In the first of what it hopes will be a couple of major regulatory milestones for its new drug, Ardelyx has bagged an FDA approval to market Ibsrela (tenapanor) for irritable bowel syndrome.

The drug’s first application will be for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), inhibiting sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE3 in the GI tract in such a way as to increase bowel movements and decrease abdominal pain. This comes on the heels of two successful Phase III trials.