As­traZeneca’s PhI­II bid on asth­ma drug tralok­inum­ab flops, and that’s no sur­prise

Maybe the best way to look at As­traZeneca R&D now is by di­vid­ing the re­search group in­to two big buck­ets: can­cer and every­thing else. That “every­thing else” group was just hit with a wide­ly ex­pect­ed Phase III fail­ure that the drug gi­ant can ill af­ford as it strug­gles to make a con­vinc­ing case for a des­per­ate­ly need­ed turn­around.

Sean Bo­hen, As­traZeneca

This time the late-stage fail­ure be­longs, once again, to its IL-13 asth­ma drug tralok­inum­ab. In its first of two Phase III stud­ies, the drug failed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly re­duce an­nu­al ex­ac­er­ba­tion rates. There is a sec­ond Phase III un­der­way that As­traZeneca be­lieves could hold the key to ul­ti­mate suc­cess, say­ing that they will com­bine da­ta from the two in de­ter­min­ing its fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion, re­searchers point­ed to a sub-pop­u­la­tion analy­sis in which pa­tients with an el­e­vat­ed mark­er for IL-13 re­spond­ed bet­ter to the drug and they plan to make that a spe­cial fo­cus of the sec­ond tri­al.

How­ev­er.

This drug al­ready failed a Phase IIb tri­al for asth­ma, rais­ing ques­tions about why the com­pa­ny would go ahead and con­tin­ue a ma­jor late-stage ef­fort need­ed to get an OK in asth­ma. But the re­searchers at the time said they were en­cour­aged by a sub­group analy­sis that point­ed to suc­cess. The com­pa­ny qui­et­ly dumped the id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis pro­gram, but in­sist­ed that there was every rea­son to be­lieve that tralok­inum­ab would work in asth­ma. On top of that, Roche’s drug le­brik­izum­ab, al­so an IL-13, came up with a split de­ci­sion in its two Phase III stud­ies last year that amount­ed to a se­vere set­back on that front.

As­traZeneca post­ed some mixed — though gen­er­al­ly pos­i­tive — da­ta from two big Phase III stud­ies of ben­ral­izum­ab, its IL-5 con­tender in the high­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket for se­vere asth­ma, last fall. A high place­bo re­sponse se­ri­ous­ly erod­ed one set of late-stage da­ta.

The phar­ma gi­ant sold off the der­ma­tol­ogy rights for tralok­inum­ab to Leo Phar­ma, which says it gath­ered pos­i­tive IPF da­ta on the drug re­cent­ly. As­traZeneca al­so punt­ed rights to bro­dalum­ab af­ter that drug proved dis­ap­point­ing, though ap­prov­able, in Phase III with ev­i­dence that it trig­gered sui­ci­dal think­ing.

As­traZeneca’s stock was large­ly un­af­fect­ed by the Phase III fail­ure to­day, which couldn’t have sur­prised many an­a­lysts. The big play at As­traZeneca now is fo­cused on MYS­TIC, its com­bi­na­tion study of dur­val­um­ab and treme­li­mum­ab in lung can­cer. As­traZeneca has had some big suc­cess­es in can­cer over the last cou­ple of years, win­ning a first OK for dur­val­um­ab and pro­gress­ing with oth­er drugs like Tagris­so and Lyn­parza. But out­side can­cer the com­pa­ny has had a se­ries of grim flops that con­tin­ue to raise ques­tions about CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot’s promise of a turn­around.

Re­search chief Sean Bo­hen had this to say in the com­pa­ny’s de­fense to­day:

Se­vere asth­ma is a het­ero­ge­neous dis­ease with sig­nif­i­cant un­met needs and we will now await the STRATOS 2 re­sults in the sec­ond half of 2017 to ex­plore the po­ten­tial to treat a sub-group of un­con­trolled asth­ma pa­tients with tralok­inum­ab.

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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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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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.

FDA asks why No­var­tis took two months to launch for­mal in­ter­nal probe, af­ter AveX­is flagged da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion

And the plot thickens. Novartis $NVS officials are reportedly now scrambling to explain to the FDA why it took them two months to open an internal investigation into data discrepancies for their $2.1 million gene-therapy for spinal muscular dystrophy — the world’s most expensive drug.

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Build­ing on suc­cess­ful PD-1 pact, Eli Lil­ly li­cens­es di­a­betes drug to Chi­nese part­ners at In­novent

Eli Lilly is expanding its partnership with China’s Innovent in a deal involving a diabetes drug sitting in its Phase I reserves.

The two companies had jointly developed one of China’s first homegrown PD-1 agents, scoring an approval for Tyvyt (sintilimab) late last year for relapsed/refractory classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This time around, Lilly is out-licensing a piece of its diabetes pipeline, a leading franchise that has historically produced the top-selling Trulicity and Humalog.

Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.