As­traZeneca joins Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers in Chi­na's check­point race as reg­u­la­tors OK first PD-L1

As­traZeneca has made a stride to­ward re­al­iz­ing its am­bi­tions in Chi­na as reg­u­la­tors green­light Imfinzi as a treat­ment for non-small cell lung can­cer.

In par­tic­u­lar, the PD-L1 agent is fill­ing a void for im­munother­a­pies in Stage III un­re­sectable case, the com­pa­ny said, where the can­cer has not spread to the rest of the body. It is to be used, with cu­ra­tive in­tent, in pa­tients whose can­cer hasn’t pro­gressed fol­low­ing con­cur­rent plat­inum-based chemother­a­py and ra­di­a­tion ther­a­py.

Dave Fredrick­son

“This ap­proval il­lus­trates our long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing health out­comes in Chi­na, where more than one-third of the world’s lung can­cer di­ag­noses and deaths oc­cur,” said Dave Fredrick­son, who heads As­traZeneca’s on­col­o­gy busi­ness unit, in a state­ment.

Imfinz’s ap­proval al­so marks the en­try of a PD-L1 in­hibitor to the coun­try, where PD-1 drugs have been pil­ing up. Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb scored the first-ever Chi­nese ap­proval for a check­point in­hibitor in June 2018, with Op­di­vo in­di­cat­ed for sec­ond-line treat­ment of NSCLC, and Mer­ck has been rack­ing up OKs for dif­fer­ent reg­i­mens in­volv­ing Keytru­da.

Then there are the do­mes­tic ri­vals, whose drugs are cur­rent­ly lim­it­ed to lym­phoma or melanoma but al­so have plans for a lu­cra­tive lung can­cer mar­ket. And they are ea­ger to com­pete on price.

Leon Wang

For As­traZeneca, this is just more rea­son to roll up its sleeves and get to ne­go­ti­at­ing with pay­ers. Its head of Chi­na, Leon Wang, has pre­vi­ous­ly told Bloomberg that he sees new treat­ments con­tribut­ing to 60% of all its Chi­na rev­enue with­in five years. To il­lus­trate that dri­ve, Wang of­fered the ex­am­ple of its first-gen EGFR-tar­get­ing lung can­cer Ires­sa, in which they won the drug sup­ply con­tract in by slash­ing the price more than 70%.

Quick ap­provals for third-gen EGFR TKI Tagris­so (which is now on the Na­tion­al Re­im­burse­ment Drug List), as well as the PARP in­hibitor Lyn­parza, helped — and now it’s time for Imfinzi to shine. No­tably, Roche’s PD-L1 Tecen­triq — which gained FDA ap­proval ear­li­er than Imfinzi — is not yet avail­able in Chi­na.

In the Phase III PA­CIF­IC tri­al, Imfinzi cut the risk of death by 32% and pro­longed pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival by 11.2 months ver­sus place­bo (me­di­an PFS 16.8 vs 5.6 months), when paired with chemo or ra­di­a­tion ther­a­py. At the three-year mark, 57% of pa­tients on the Imfinzi arm are still alive com­pared to 43.5% on place­bo, ac­cord­ing to a post hoc analy­sis pre­sent­ed at AS­CO.

Imfinzi sales have gone over the $1 bil­lion mark in the first three quar­ters of the year, grow­ing 182% com­pared to the same pe­ri­od last year.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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Sim­mer­ing feud be­tween blue­bird and a ri­val con­tin­ues with al­le­ga­tions of patent fraud

Bluebird bio was hit with a patent infringement lawsuit last week from a Chicago-based biotech it has had an ongoing beef with calling for $2 billion to help cure the “irreparable harm” caused by alleged willful infringement.

Bluebird bio is facing a lawsuit from Errant Gene Therapeutics for violating patent law in two instances, the company says.

The suit alleges that bluebird infringed the rights of EGT’s recombinant vectors used in the gene therapy treatment of rare diseases such as sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia for its drugs Zynteglo and LentiGlobin. EGT has an exclusive license from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to patents titled “vector encoding human global gene and use thereof in treatment of Hemoglobinopathies.”

Sanofi, Re­gen­eron gear up for new Dupix­ent fil­ing af­ter clear­ing sec­ond PhI­II for eosinophilic esophagi­tis

This fall’s harvest is proving fruitful for Dupixent.

Days after touting a clean Phase III sweep in prurigo nodularis, Sanofi and Regeneron report that their blockbuster anti-inflammatory drug has passed another Phase III test with flying colors, paving the way for regulatory filings in 2022.

It’s the second trial where Dupixent has proven effective against eosinophilic esophagitis, meeting the co-primary endpoints by spurring significant improvements in both clinical and histologic disease measures.

Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; and more

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