As­traZeneca pub­lish­es Covid-19 vac­cine PhI­II pro­to­cols in lock­step with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er. How are they dif­fer­ent?

Fol­low­ing in the steps of Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er, the oth­er two Amer­i­can drug­mak­ers cur­rent­ly in Phase III tri­als for their Covid-19 vac­cines, As­traZeneca post­ed its own study pro­to­cols over the week­end. The move is the lat­est in a se­ries of rare peeks be­hind the cur­tain, as such blue­prints are typ­i­cal­ly shared once such tri­als are com­plet­ed.

“Giv­en the un­prece­dent­ed glob­al im­pact of the Coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and the need for pub­lic in­for­ma­tion, As­traZeneca has pub­lished the de­tailed pro­to­col and de­sign of our AZD1222 clin­i­cal tri­al. As with most clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, pro­to­cols are not typ­i­cal­ly shared pub­licly due to the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial­i­ty and in­tegri­ty of tri­als. As­traZeneca con­tin­ues to work with in­dus­try peers to en­sure a con­sis­tent ap­proach to shar­ing time­ly clin­i­cal tri­al in­for­ma­tion,” the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment.

As­traZeneca’s tri­al, un­like the ones from coun­ter­parts, on­ly plans for one in­ter­im analy­sis that could al­low the com­pa­ny to stop the tri­al ear­ly and pe­ti­tion for an emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion. That analy­sis is ex­pect­ed to oc­cur at 75 in­fec­tions. Mod­er­na ex­pects two analy­ses, at 53 and 106 events, while Pfiz­er pen­ciled in four — at 32, 62, 92 and 120 cas­es.

The British phar­ma al­so in­di­cat­ed that it is aim­ing for a 50% ef­fi­ca­cy rate for its can­di­date, the thresh­old that the FDA has set for in its coro­n­avirus vac­cine guide­lines, where­as Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er are both aim­ing for 60% ef­fec­tive­ness.

All three com­pa­nies al­so have dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria for symp­toms in the pri­ma­ry end­points of their tri­als, with each in­clud­ing those as­so­ci­at­ed with mild in­fec­tions. Er­ic Topol, one of the in­dus­try’s strongest ad­vo­cates for vac­cine trans­paren­cy, sum­ma­rized those dif­fer­ences in a tweet.

Vac­cine mak­ers have been un­der in­tense po­lit­i­cal pres­sure through­out the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, but that has on­ly ramped up as No­vem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion draws near­er. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has re­peat­ed­ly of­fered promis­es that a vac­cine could be ready be­fore the elec­tion, and HHS sec­re­tary Alex Azar ef­fec­tive­ly set the FDA staff on no­tice say­ing that his sig­na­ture is re­quired on all rule mak­ing.

Thus far, Pfiz­er CEO Al­bert Bourla has been the on­ly ex­ec­u­tive to say his com­pa­ny could know whether or not its vac­cine works in Oc­to­ber. Mod­er­na pres­i­dent Stephen Hoge, ap­pear­ing on CBS Evening News last week, said the drug­mak­er could know if its own vac­cine works by No­vem­ber.

De­spite a green light to re­sume in the UK, As­traZeneca’s Phase III tri­al re­mains on hold in the US af­ter a vol­un­teer in the UK de­vel­oped a con­di­tion thought to be trans­verse myelitis, a rare spinal in­flam­ma­tion dis­or­der, af­ter tak­ing their sec­ond dose of the vac­cine. The com­pa­ny has not con­firmed the di­ag­no­sis, and a doc­u­ment post­ed by Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty last week sug­gest­ed that the vac­cine was not linked to the con­di­tion.

That in­stance was the sec­ond time As­traZeneca’s tri­al was placed on hold fol­low­ing a case of un­di­ag­nosed mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis oc­cur­ring in a sep­a­rate tri­al par­tic­i­pant.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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Troy Wilson, Kura CEO

FDA lifts par­tial hold on Ku­ra's Phase Ib AML pro­gram as biotech re­dou­bles mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts

Kura Oncology is clear to resume studies for its early-stage leukemia program after the FDA lifted a clinical hold Thursday afternoon.

Regulators had placed the hold on a Phase Ib study of KO-539, an experimental oral treatment for some genetic subsets of acute myeloid leukemia last November after a patient died while taking the drug. Kura expects to begin enrolling patients again imminently, CEO Troy Wilson told Endpoints News.

A Sen­ate bill wants to even an 'un­lev­el play­ing field' for do­mes­tic, for­eign in­spec­tion drop-ins amid back­log

Amid geopolitical tensions between the US and China, two Republican senators are calling for a bill that would aim to strike a balance on domestic and foreign inspection requirements from the FDA.

Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) have penned a bill called the Creating Efficiency in Foreign Inspections Act. It contains a bit of rhetoric, highlighting “communist China” not once, but twice in the release, but states that the goal is to even the playing field between foreign and American manufacturers.

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