As­traZeneca’s shares spike on a sur­prise coup in PhI­II lung can­cer da­ta

Sean Bo­hen, As­traZeneca

As­traZeneca $AZN shares popped more than 7% this morn­ing on pos­i­tive Phase III pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival da­ta for Imfinzi (dur­val­um­ab) in treat­ing ad­vanced, in­op­er­a­ble and chemo-re­sis­tant non-small cell lung can­cer.

An­a­lysts did a quick dou­ble take and im­me­di­ate­ly cheered it as a re­mark­able – and com­plete­ly un­ex­pect­ed – hit.

That’s the right tar­get for As­traZeneca, which re­cent­ly won its first ap­proval for the world’s fifth check­point in­hibitor. On Wednes­day Mer­ck moved to the front of that field with an ap­proval to use a com­bi­na­tion of Keytru­da with chemo as a first-line ther­a­py on NSCLC, putting it on top of the heap of ri­vals look­ing to carve out a big piece of the block­buster mar­ket.

This As­traZeneca tri­al wasn’t the big study an­a­lysts have been wait­ing for.

As­traZeneca has been bet­ting heav­i­ly on MYS­TIC, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of dur­val­um­ab and the CT­LA-4 drug treme­li­mum­ab for NSCLC. That would cre­ate some ma­jor mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties for the phar­ma gi­ant, which has been mak­ing a rep for it­self in the on­col­o­gy field in re­cent years — even as it’s plagued by prat­falls and dis­ap­point­ments in oth­er ar­eas of R&D.

As­traZeneca bad­ly needs every shred of good news that it can find, and there were some high fives in the or­ga­ni­za­tion on this pos­i­tive read­out, which helps the com­pa­ny dis­tin­guish it­self in the most in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive field in bio­phar­ma.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez, Leerink

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink gave it a big thumbs up, not­ing:

This news comes as an ear­ly up­side sur­prise, as we do not cur­rent­ly have fore­casts for this in­di­ca­tion in our mod­el nor do we be­lieve this op­por­tu­ni­ty is wide­ly ap­pre­ci­at­ed by in­vestors. Im­por­tant­ly, this puts AZN square­ly in the IO fight in with a unique NSCLC in­di­ca­tion for monother­a­py PD1/PDL1 agents not cur­rent­ly shared by oth­er mem­bers of the class. AZN es­ti­mates that it is at least 2-3 years ahead of oth­er com­peti­tors, and our search­es on­ly un­cov­ered rel­a­tive­ly small sin­gle-arm Ph 2 stud­ies un­der­way for po­ten­tial com­peti­tors.

Oth­er an­a­lysts at Deutsche Bank were al­so im­pressed, of­fer­ing some block­buster num­bers for As­traZeneca on this one in­di­ca­tion.

Look for the da­ta to make the short trip to reg­u­la­tors as As­traZeneca seeks to cap­i­tal­ize on fore­casts that this drug could be worth more than $2 bil­lion a year for the com­pa­ny.

Said R&D chief Sean Bo­hen:

We look for­ward to work­ing with reg­u­la­to­ry au­thor­i­ties around the world to bring Imfinzi to lung can­cer pa­tients as soon as pos­si­ble. Along­side this, we con­tin­ue to ex­plore Imfinzi’s full po­ten­tial as monother­a­py as well as in com­bi­na­tion with treme­li­mum­ab and oth­er med­i­cines in ar­eas of con­tin­ued un­met need across mul­ti­ple types of can­cer.

At a time when the check­point can­cer mar­ket would seem to be ripe for ma­tur­ing, with 5 ap­proved, there’s in­stead been a se­ries of star­tling re­ver­sals and ad­vances. Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb made the move to the lead, then blew it with a bad­ly de­signed Phase III on front­line use. Mer­ck leapfrogged its ri­val and then, just days ago, Roche’s Tecen­triq failed a con­fir­ma­to­ry Phase III in blad­der can­cer, af­ter it had been giv­en an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

Big sur­pris­es are be­com­ing the or­der of the day in check­point in­hi­bi­tion, a field worth tens of bil­lions of dol­lars.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

Laurent Fischer, Adverum CEO

Ad­verum faces murky fu­ture af­ter re­view turns up deep­er safe­ty is­sues for gene ther­a­py

Three months after revealing that a patient lost significant vision in one eye after receiving its experimental gene therapy, Adverum announced it found the safety issues were more widespread: Five of 12 patients who received a high dose of the therapy saw “similar clinically-relevant events.”

Three required surgery on their treated eye. And all 12 are being recommended “aggressive immunomodulatory treatments” to prevent further injury.

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Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

Bio­gen has a shaky end to H1 with a $542M write-off adding to its woes — but an­a­lysts see big rev­enue ahead for Aduhelm

All eyes at Biogen’s Q2 earnings call Thursday were on Aduhelm, but investors also got a glimpse of what Biogen would have faced had the FDA not opted to approve their controversial Alzheimer’s drug.

That glimpse, revealing a combination of declining sales, growing competition and failed medicines, underscores the stakes of the big biotech’s Aduhelm efforts, as execs punch back at the criticism they’ve engendered in the political and medical world and vigorously pushes its sales staff to roll out the drug as fast as possible.

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Mol­e­c­u­lar Di­ag­nos­tics Can Trans­form Can­cer Care. Let’s Make It Hap­pen.

Like so many people around the world, my life has been profoundly shaped by cancer. Those personal experiences, along with a deep love of clinical laboratory science and a passion to apply the power of genomics in medicine, motivated me to launch a company that would improve cancer care through better diagnostics. Thirteen years later, I am proud that we are delivering more accurate information at multiple points along the patient journey, with a focus on eight of the 10 cancers that are most commonly diagnosed in the United States.