Bax­al­ta in hand, Shire dumps drug pro­grams in hunt for $210M in R&D cuts

Now that Shire has closed on its buy­out deal for Bax­al­ta, the com­pa­ny has al­ready trimmed a slate of drug de­vel­op­ment pro­grams as it seeks to chop out a to­tal of $210 mil­lion in R&D costs from the com­bined op­er­a­tion over three years. And among the first to go was a mid-stage he­pati­tis B gene ther­a­py that didn’t make the cut in an in­creas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive field.

Shire CEO Flem­ming Orn­skov

The ex­ec­u­tive team — led by CEO Flem­ming Orn­skov — laid out a new, big­ger tar­get for cut­ting costs, up­ping the ante from the $500 mil­lion in “syn­er­gies” pegged at the time the deal was an­nounced to $700 mil­lion now that they’ve had a chance to con­sid­er all the prospects. And 30% of that — rough­ly $210 mil­lion – is com­ing straight out of re­search.

That’s the kind of mes­sage that plays well on Wall Street, where Shire’s shares surged 4% by the end of the day.

Speak­ing to an­a­lysts on Tues­day morn­ing, the ex­ec­u­tive team talked up the com­bined pipeline of 40 pro­grams as Orn­skov high­light­ed “the gems in the pipeline” that would con­tin­ue to get close at­ten­tion.

Those gems in­clud­ed three late-stage pro­grams: SHP643 for HAE;  SHP620 for CMV, which starts in H2; and SHP647, an IBD drug re­cent­ly in-li­censed from Pfiz­er, which dubbed it PF-00547659.

R&D chief Phil Vick­ers not­ed that their pipeline re­view un­veiled 8 pro­grams for the chop­ping block. Most of those are in ear­ly stage de­vel­op­ment, he added, but Shire spot­light­ed three Phase II pro­grams that were cut out, in­clud­ing one for SHP625 (the old LUM001) in adults. 625 has won break­through drug sta­tus at the FDA, but Shire has had to con­tend with dis­cour­ag­ing da­ta from the drug and will fo­cus on the pe­di­atric pop­u­la­tion.

Shire is al­so cut­ting the gene ther­a­py pro­gram for he­mo­phil­ia B in­her­it­ed from the Bax­al­ta ac­qui­si­tion. And that will come as wel­come news to Spark ($ONCE) and its ri­vals as they hus­tle along their own he­mo­phil­ia B drugs. Bio­Marin an­nounced stel­lar re­sults from a proof-of-con­cept study in he­mo­phil­ia A a few days ago, high­light­ing the com­pe­ti­tion for best re­sults.

Vick­ers ex­plained the de­ci­sion in the call with an­a­lysts.

“For the lead com­pound, which was Bax 335, there was ex­cel­lent ex­pres­sion, ac­tu­al­ly. Ex­cel­lent ex­pres­sion seen with that par­tic­u­lar vec­tor. It’s an AAV8 vec­tor, so the ade­n­ovi­ral vec­tor. We were very pleased to get ac­cess to. So the ex­pres­sion was good but it was a lit­tle in­con­sis­tent be­tween dif­fer­ent pa­tients, and with time for some pa­tients, the lev­el of ex­pres­sion de­creased. And we think that’s a very im­por­tant thing to fac­tor in when con­sid­er­ing all gene ther­a­pies, is the ex­pres­sion go­ing to go down over time.

“So it did go down and we think it’s very im­por­tant for the com­mu­ni­ty out there for us to bring for­ward the high­est qual­i­ty as­set we think we pos­si­bly can in this space. So we went over some of the tech­ni­cal rea­sons why we might be see­ing that in­con­sis­ten­cy and some­what of a de­crease in ex­pres­sion over time. And, have some fac­tors that we think could ac­count for that and we’re build­ing those in­to the de­sign and the con­structs that we’re us­ing for the gene ther­a­py. So it’s re­al­ly not any de­crease in our com­mit­ment to the pro­gram. It’s just that we’re go­ing to change the mol­e­cule and move for­ward for the com­pound that’s now in pre­clin­i­cal. And the fac­tor VI­II gene ther­a­py pro­gram goes for­ward un­af­fect­ed.”

Leerink’s Michael Schmidt had this to say:

“This is in­cre­men­tal­ly pos­i­tive for QURE, since com­pe­ti­tion in he­mo­phil­ia B has formed a ma­jor over­hang on the stock. While sev­er­al oth­er gene ther­a­py pro­grams are cur­rent­ly in clin­i­cal dev’t (e.g. ONCE, DMTX, SG­MO), and ONCE’s has gen­er­at­ed high­ly im­pres­sive clin­i­cal da­ta to date we be­lieve that it is un­like­ly that one sin­gle gene ther­a­py prod­uct will be used to treat all he­mo­phil­ia B due to the prod­uct-spe­cif­ic lim­i­ta­tions (e.g. neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­bod­ies).”

Asked whether the com­pa­ny could still ex­pect to make a big splash in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, where there’s been a fren­zy of deal mak­ing and de­vel­op­ment work, Orn­skov was clear that Shire would take a very mea­sured, “step-by-step” ap­proach to build­ing a new fran­chise.

(So don’t look for any dra­mat­ic ac­tions in that field.)

“I think that this is not a com­mit­ment at this stage for Shire to be spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­sources on re­search or com­mer­cial­ly,” Orn­skov not­ed.

Shire has un­der­gone a painful pipeline re­view be­fore, tak­ing a hard look at its ex­per­i­men­tal as­sets when the com­pa­ny was put through his “One Shire” ini­tia­tive in­volved in bet­ter in­te­grat­ing work at the com­pa­ny. And Shire down­sized op­er­a­tions in Penn­syl­va­nia as Orn­skov con­cen­trat­ed a larg­er share of its re­search in Mass­a­chu­setts.

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

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On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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After spending years developing its oral formulation of the corticosteroid budesonide, Sweden’s Calliditas now has its sights set on the primary biliary cholangitis field.

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