As­traZeneca's vac­cine hit its first road­block with In­di­an reg­u­la­tors. Will lin­ger­ing doubts de­rail its plans else­where?

British drug­mak­er As­traZeneca is al­ready run­ning be­hind ear­ly com­peti­tors in the hunt for a Covid-19 vac­cine with in­ter­im da­ta that have re­ceived less-than-stel­lar feed­back. With those da­ta in hand, In­dia has said “no thanks” to an ear­ly ap­proval for the shot, po­ten­tial­ly set­ting the stage for even more set­backs.

On Tues­day, In­di­an reg­u­la­tors re­fused to grant As­traZeneca’s ade­n­ovirus-based Covid-19 vac­cine an emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion based on a dearth of ad­e­quate safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta, Reuters re­port­ed, cit­ing lo­cal broad­cast­er NDTV.

In­dia’s ear­ly no comes just hours af­ter As­traZeneca’s in­ter­im da­ta were pub­lished in The Lancet un­veil­ing ex­pand­ed safe­ty da­ta and fur­ther break­ing down the 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy fig­ure that has con­found­ed an­a­lysts and cast doubts on whether the vac­cine will ever com­pete with more ef­fec­tive com­peti­tors from Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na — and maybe oth­ers yet to read out.

In a note to clients Wednes­day break­ing down the da­ta, SVB Leerink an­a­lyst An­drew Berens was less than kind to the ear­ly read­out, de­spite one of the dos­ing reg­i­mens in three Phase III tri­als — a half-dose first shot fol­lowed by a full-dose primer — hit­ting 90% ef­fi­ca­cy.

“The pub­li­ca­tion high­lights a num­ber of vari­ances in the dos­ing reg­i­mens uti­lized in these tri­als that could make it dif­fi­cult for the reg­u­la­to­ry agen­cies to have con­fi­dence in the op­ti­mum dos­ing pro­to­col for full ap­proval with­out ad­di­tion­al stud­ies,” Berens wrote.

For one, the big vari­abil­i­ty be­tween the low-dose/high-dose com­bo and the high-dose/high-dose reg­i­men—which on­ly post­ed 62% ef­fi­ca­cy across three pooled tri­als did lit­tle to in­spire con­fi­dence. The more ef­fec­tive reg­i­men could be enough to spur reg­u­la­tors’ in­ter­est, but there are prob­lems with that da­ta as well, Berens said; sig­nif­i­cant­ly few­er pa­tients re­ceived that reg­i­men and those who did typ­i­cal­ly skewed younger.

Mene Pan­ga­los

Mean­while lo­cal tri­al pro­to­cols var­ied wide­ly, Berens not­ed, with pa­tients re­ceiv­ing boost­er shots at dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals across study sites. On a call with me­dia Tues­day, As­traZeneca’s ex­ec­u­tive VP of bio­phar­ma R&D Mene Pan­ga­los said that vari­abil­i­ty in boost­er tim­ing wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing: With glob­al de­mand and lim­it­ed sup­plies, pa­tients could be forced to wait on a sec­ond shot in the fu­ture.

Mean­while, Berens al­so cast doubt on the shot’s man­u­fac­tur­ing, which ap­peared to show vari­able strengths across dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion sites. As­traZeneca ar­gued those dif­fer­ences were with­in a com­fort­able range giv­en the ge­o­graph­i­cal­ly dis­parate sup­ply chain, but Berens begged to dif­fer.

“We be­lieve this could be a detri­ment when at­tempt­ing to gain reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval as the man­u­fac­tur­ing process may not be uni­form and tighter re­lease spec­i­fi­ca­tions for vac­cines are gen­er­al­ly pre­ferred,” he wrote.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing had been a boon for As­traZeneca in com­par­i­son to its ear­ly mR­NA-based vac­cine com­peti­tors from Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na. For one, As­traZeneca’s shot can be stored and dis­trib­uted in­def­i­nite­ly at room tem­per­a­ture while Pfiz­er’s shot, in par­tic­u­lar, re­quires stren­u­ous cold-chain lo­gis­tics that could make it hard to dis­trib­ute in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

With those ques­tions in mind, In­dia’s big no is both an im­me­di­ate sur­prise — the coun­try and its vac­cine gi­ant, the Serum In­sti­tute of In­dia, have been churn­ing out mil­lions of dos­es of the shot for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tion­al use — but could be a sign of things to come as As­traZeneca faces rolling re­view in the EU, UK and else­where.

The drug­mak­er on Tues­day said it was still await­ing US da­ta and would with­hold an FDA fil­ing in the mean­time.

As­traZeneca can al­so lean on its rel­a­tive­ly clean safe­ty pro­file — one of the high­lights from its Lancet pub­li­ca­tion. Across four pooled stud­ies en­com­pass­ing 20,000 pa­tients, As­traZeneca’s vac­cine saw 79 se­vere events com­pared with 89 events in the con­trol arms. As­traZeneca re­port­ed three cas­es of trans­verse myelitis, which caus­es swelling in the spinal cord, two of which were deemed un­re­lat­ed to the vac­cine.

The third case, which caused As­traZeneca’s vac­cine to go on clin­i­cal hold ear­li­er this year, was de­ter­mined to be “pos­si­bly re­lat­ed” to the shot, Berens wrote. That black mark aside, the vac­cine re­sult­ed in no hos­pi­tal­iza­tions or deaths in the three tri­als pooled for ef­fi­ca­cy while there were 10 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and one death in the con­trol arms.

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

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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FDA grants or­phan drug des­ig­na­tion to Al­ger­non's ifen­prodil, while ex­clu­siv­i­ty re­mains un­clear

As the FDA remains silent on orphan drug exclusivity in the wake of a controversial court case, the agency continues to hand out new designations. The latest: Algernon Pharmaceuticals’ experimental lung disease drug ifenprodil.

The Vancouver-based company announced on Monday that ifenprodil received orphan designation in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung condition that results in scarring of the lungs.  Most IPF patients suffer with a dry cough, and breathing can become difficult.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Sekar Kathiresan, Verve Therapeutics CEO

Verve re­veals let­ter from FDA that lays out con­di­tions to lift base edit­ing tri­al hold

We now know why Verve’s lead candidate was placed on hold last month by US regulators.

In an SEC filing, Verve laid out the FDA’s conditions for lifting the hold on its lead therapy, VERVE-101. That includes submitting preclinical data about potency differences in human versus non-human cells, risks of gene editing germline cells, and off-target analyses in non-hepatocyte cell types.

The FDA also wants clinical data from the ongoing Heart-1 trial, and to modify the trial protocol in the US to add additional contraceptive measures and increase the length of a staggering interval between the dosing of participants.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Af­ter M&A fell through, Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD sells hor­mone ther­a­py, con­tra­cep­tive ring for $140M cash plus roy­al­ties

TherapeuticsMD, a women’s health company whose one-time billion-dollar valuation seems a distant memory as its blockbuster aspirations petered out, is finally cashing out.

Australia’s Mayne Pharma is paying $140 million upfront to license essentially TherapeuticsMD’s whole portfolio, including two prescription drugs that treat conditions relating to menopause, a contraceptive vaginal ring as well as its prescription prenatal vitamin brands.

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Big week for Alzheimer’s da­ta; As­traZeneca buys cell ther­a­py start­up; Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics hits a pay­er wall; 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.

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