AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot [via AP]

As­traZeneca's flag­ship Tagris­so helps lung can­cer pa­tients live longer in piv­otal study

As­traZeneca is off to a good start in Au­gust. Af­ter its PARP in­hibitor Lyn­parza scored in a prostate can­cer tri­al ear­li­er this week, the British drug­mak­er on Fri­day dis­closed that its star can­cer drug Tagris­so helped pa­tients with a cer­tain type of lung can­cer live longer in a late-stage study.

The over­all sur­vival da­ta fol­lows pos­i­tive pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival da­ta un­veiled in 2017 from the FLAU­RA Phase III tri­al in­volv­ing pa­tients with metasta­t­ic epi­der­mal growth fac­tor re­cep­tor (EGFR) mu­ta­tion-pos­i­tive non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC). As­traZeneca es­ti­mates rough­ly 10-15% of pa­tients in the US and Eu­rope, and 30-40% of pa­tients in Asia have EGFR-mu­tat­ed NSCLC.

In the first half of 2019, Tagris­so was As­traZeneca’s $AZN biggest sell­er, rak­ing in $1.4 bil­lion in sales. The drug is cur­rent­ly ap­proved in 74 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Unit­ed States, Japan and the EU for first line EGFR-pos­i­tive metasta­t­ic NSCLC.

The FLAU­RA tri­al as­sessed the ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty of Tagris­so oral­ly once dai­ly against com­para­tor treat­ments (ei­ther Tarce­va from Roche and Astel­las or Ires­sa from As­traZeneca’s own ar­se­nal) in 556 pa­tients across 29 coun­tries. Da­ta showed the drug near­ly dou­bled me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival to 18.9 months ver­sus 10.2 months achieved by Tarce­va and Ires­sa.

On Fri­day, As­traZeneca said Tagris­so con­ferred a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly-sig­nif­i­cant and clin­i­cal­ly-mean­ing­ful im­prove­ment in over­all sur­vival — al­though de­tails will be pro­vid­ed at a lat­er date.

Lung can­cer is the lead­ing cause of can­cer death glob­al­ly, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. The two main types of lung can­cer are non-small cell and small cell, and NSCLC ac­counts for about 85% of all cas­es. Lung can­cer has a poor prog­no­sis; sta­tis­tics sug­gest over half of peo­ple di­ag­nosed die with­in one year of di­ag­no­sis and the av­er­age 5-year over­all sur­vival rate is less than 18%.

Con­sid­ered one of the most com­mer­cial­ly re­ward­ing con­di­tions to treat, As­traZeneca had pinned its hopes on the com­bi­na­tion of its check­point in­hibitor Imfinzi with its in-house CT­LA-4 drug in the keen­ly watched MYS­TIC tri­al ear­li­er this year, but that bet proved cost­ly. Imfinzi is now in de­vel­op­ment as a monother­a­py, as well as a chemother­a­py com­bi­na­tion, for lung can­cer pa­tients with­out a known ge­net­ic mu­ta­tion.

De­spite a string of high-pro­file miss­es, chief Pas­cal So­ri­ot has made strides in his mis­sion to fix As­traZeneca’s once-ail­ing port­fo­lio bruised by gener­ic med­i­cines eat­ing in­to sales. The com­pa­ny has since sharp­ened its fo­cus on the lu­cra­tive field of on­col­o­gy with drugs such as Lyn­parza, Tagris­so and Imfinzi. In 2016, So­ri­ot had tout­ed Tagris­so as a $3 bil­lion an­nu­al earn­er, a key fea­ture in his big promise to de­liv­er $45 bil­lion in an­nu­al rev­enue in 2023.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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FDA to Sarep­ta: Your wide­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed fol­lowup to Ex­ondys 51 is not get­ting an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK for Duchenne MD

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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UP­DAT­ED: No­var­tis spin­off Nabri­va fi­nal­ly scores its first an­tibi­ot­ic ap­proval

In May, Nabriva Therapeutics suffered a setback after the FDA rejected its antibiotic for complicated urinary tract infections — the Novartis spinoff has now had some better luck with the US agency, which on Monday approved its other drug for community-acquired bacterial pneumonia.

The drug, lefamulin, has been developed as an intravenous and oral formulation and been tested in two late-stage clinical trials. The semi-synthetic compound, whose dosing can be switched between the two formulations, is engineered to inhibit the synthesis of bacterial protein by binding to a part of the bacterial ribosome.

Saqib Islam. CheckRare via YouTube

Spring­Works seeks $115M to push Pfiz­er drugs across fin­ish line while Sat­suma sells mi­graine play in $86M IPO

SpringWorks and Satsuma — both biotech spinouts that have closed B rounds in April — are loading up with IPO cash to boost their respective late-stage plans.

Bain-backed SpringWorks is the better-known company of the two, and it’s gunning for a larger windfall of $115 million to add to $228 million from previous financings. In the process, the Stamford, CT-based team is also drawing the curtains on the partnerships it has in mind for the pair of assets it had initially licensed from Pfizer.

Mi­nor­i­ty racial groups con­tin­ue to be dis­mal­ly rep­re­sent­ed in can­cer tri­als — study

Data reveal that different racial and ethnic groups — by nature and/or nurture — can respond differently in terms of pharmacokinetics, efficacy, or safety to therapeutics, but this disparity is not necessarily accounted for in clinical trials. A fresh analysis of the last decade of US cancer drug approvals suggests the trend continues, cementing previous research that suggests oncology trials are woefully under-representative of the racial makeup of the real world.

Van­da shares slide af­ter FDA spurns their big end­point and re­jects a pitch on jet lag re­lief

Back in the spring of last year, Vanda Pharmaceuticals $VNDA served up a hot stew of mixed data for a slate of endpoints related to what they called clear evidence that their melatonin sleep drug Hetlioz (tasimelteon) could help millions of travelers suffering from jet lag.

Never mind that they couldn’t get a planned 90 people in the study, settling for 25 instead; Vanda CEO Mihael H. Polymeropoulos said they were building on a body of data to prove it would help jet-lagged patients looking for added sleep benefits. And that, they added, would be worth a major upgrade from the agency as they sought to tackle a big market.