Ben­itec’s aban­doned one-dose hep C “cure” ac­tu­al­ly had two big prob­lems

Back in Feb­ru­ary ex­ecs at the Syd­ney-based mi­cro­cap biotech Ben­itec Bio­phar­ma $BNTC told their in­vestors that they were go­ing to drop their he­pati­tis C ther­a­py be­cause they felt that the mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties had dried up af­ter a se­ries of game-chang­ing ther­a­pies were in­tro­duced. Now they’re al­so con­ced­ing an­oth­er lit­tle prob­lem with the treat­ment: It didn’t ac­tu­al­ly work.

Ben­itec CEO Greg West

The main goal for their Phase I/IIa study, the lead ef­fort in its pipeline, was de­ter­min­ing the safe­ty of the ther­a­py, which they say in­ves­ti­ga­tors clear­ly hit. How­ev­er, it al­so didn’t have any kind of ap­pre­cia­ble ef­fect on vi­ral load.

Last spring, the com­pa­ny — pur­su­ing its own twist on RNAi gene si­lenc­ing in search of a one-dose “cure” — said that it had de­cid­ed to drop its plans to pur­sue a hep C ther­a­py be­cause of all the as­tound­ing new com­bos around that were at­tract­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of at­ten­tion. The fo­cus had shift­ed so hard to Gilead and its ri­vals that they were hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time re­cruit­ing pa­tients for their small study. And Big Phar­ma had be­come so un­in­ter­est­ed in hep C deals now, the best way for­ward was to shift to he­pati­tis B, where they felt the ex­per­i­men­tal hep C drug, TT-034, had helped show them the way.

“Sim­ply put,” said CEO Greg West in a call with an­a­lysts, “the TT-034 pro­gram has not at­tract­ed mean­ing­ful in­ter­est from Big Phar­ma in spite of many meet­ings and ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Those po­ten­tial part­ners would have been even less in­ter­est­ed in TT-034 if they had known the ear­ly-stage study would fail at re­duc­ing the vi­ral bur­den of pa­tients.

David Suhy, CSO of Ben­titec

Dr. David Suhy, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer for Ben­itec, said:

“We are ob­vi­ous­ly dis­ap­point­ed that we did not see a re­duc­tion in vi­ral bur­den as a re­sult of TT-034 ad­min­is­tra­tion. Al­though we will com­plete a more de­tailed as­sess­ment of the da­ta, it is like­ly that TT-034 pro­duced in­suf­fi­cient lev­els of the an­ti-HCV shRNA. Sev­er­al years ago, we pub­lished a pa­per in which we made ge­net­ic changes in­to the TT-034 con­struct to down-reg­u­late ex­pres­sion lev­els of shRNA in or­der to avoid tox­i­c­i­ty at ex­cep­tion­al­ly high dos­es in an­i­mal mod­els. While it is pos­si­ble that the re­duc­tion in shRNA lev­els was fur­ther ex­ac­er­bat­ed when TT-034 was ad­min­is­tered to hu­man sub­jects, it is im­por­tant to note that we have al­ready used these learn­ings from this clin­i­cal study to make de­sign mod­i­fi­ca­tions to oth­er pro­grams. In par­tic­u­lar we have made a se­ries of changes to gen­er­ate more po­tent trig­gers of RNAi as well as mod­i­fy the con­structs to sig­nif­i­cant­ly en­hance shRNA ex­pres­sion lev­els. As one ex­am­ple, the de­sign of BB-103 for the HBV pro­gram, used sev­er­al new ap­proach­es to sig­nif­i­cant­ly en­hance the lev­el of shRNA ex­pres­sion while still main­tain­ing a safe pro­file.”

Ben­itec’s mar­ket cap sits at $10.7 mil­lion.

Un­pack­ing the Aduhelm de­ci­sion, Ver­tex's half full glass, a $525M J&J breakup, 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.

By now you have surely read about the FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug and all its reverberations. But I’d still recommend checking out the meaty recap below to make sure you didn’t miss all the angles that the Endpoints team has covered. If you’d rather look ahead, look no further than our three-day virtual panels next week at BIO, where we will discuss what the new normal means for every part of the industry.

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What does a clear ma­jor­i­ty of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try think of the FDA ap­proval of ad­u­canum­ab? 'Hor­ri­fy­ing' 'Dan­ger­ous' 'Con­fus­ing' 'Dis­as­ter'

Over the years, we’ve become used to seeing a consensus emerge early in our industry polls at Endpoints News. And when we took the pulse of drug hunters on the heels of a controversial FDA approval for aducanumab this week, it became immediately apparent that the vast majority of our readers — heavily concentrated among biopharma staffers and execs — were incensed by what they had just witnessed.

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Aaron Kesselheim (Scott Eisen/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Har­vard’s Aaron Kessel­heim re­signs from ex­pert pan­el in wake of ad­u­canum­ab OK, blast­ing FDA for ‘worst drug ap­proval de­ci­sion in re­cent U.S. his­to­ry'

A third member of the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee has resigned in the wake of Biogen’s controversial Aduhelm approval, slamming the agency as he left and further deepening the controversy surrounding the decision.

Harvard University professor Aaron Kesselheim quit in protest Thursday afternoon, calling the Aduhelm OK “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.” Kesselheim follows both Joel Perlmutter, a neurologist from Washington University in St. Louis, and David Knopman, a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic, out the door.

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David Knopman (Mayo Clinic via YouTube)

A sec­ond ad­comm mem­ber aban­dons his post in af­ter­math of con­tro­ver­sial ad­u­canum­ab de­ci­sion

As the fallout from the FDA’s approval of Alzheimer’s med aducanumab grows, a second member of the adcomm overseeing that drug’s review has walked away. But even with two experts now having resigned from that committee in protest, is there enough broad-level outrage to prevent another aducanumab from getting approved?

The FDA on Wednesday lost another member of its Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee as Mayo Clinic neurologist David Knopman hit the exit over the agency’s decision to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm despite the committee’s near-unanimous vote against it.

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Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex CEO (BIO via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex strikes out on its lat­est big shot at a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease. But they're go­ing to keep on swing­ing

It’s been several months since Vertex culled one of its small molecules for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), taking a big hit after evidence of liver damage surfaced in a key Phase II trial. Now we learned that the company has whiffed on its second shot, and there’s nothing left in the clinic to treat the rare genetic disease — but that won’t stop it from trying.

Despite avoiding the safety issues that plagued the last candidate, Vertex $VRTX is taking the axe to VX-864 after Phase II results revealed the magnitude of the drug’s response is “unlikely to translate into substantial clinical benefit.” As a result of the news, the company’s stock fell 12.5% after hours.

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FDA au­tho­rizes about 10M J&J vac­cine dos­es, trash­es 60M more from trou­bled Emer­gent plant

The FDA on Friday released about 10 million doses of J&J’s vaccine for use, and disposed of another 60 million doses that were manufactured at the now-shuttered Emergent BioSolutions facility in Baltimore where cross-contamination occurred.

The agency said it’s not yet ready to allow the Emergent plant to be included in the J&J EUA, but that may occur soon. FDA came to the decision to authorize some of the doses after reviewing facility records and quality testing results.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

Months af­ter FDA re­jec­tion, Sanofi touts piv­otal win for rare dis­ease drug su­tim­limab as it preps to re­file

One of the pillar drugs of Sanofi’s $11.6 billion pickup of Bioverativ hit a big setback late last year when the FDA sent its application for approval back. Now, as Sanofi gears up to resubmit the drug for review, the drugmaker is touting pivotal data it hopes will help take it over the finish line.

Sanofi’s sutimlimab nailed all three of its primary endpoints in its Phase III CADENZA study for patients with cold agglutinin disease, a rare disorder that can cause severe anemia, without a recent history of blood transfusion, the French drugmaker said Friday. The topline results will be presented at this weekend’s virtual EHA meeting.

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Ver­tex and CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics un­veil more pos­i­tive gene ther­a­py da­ta, but busul­fan again casts a shad­ow over the field

Less than 12 hours after revealing a flop on its second shot for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, Vertex plowed ahead with another data drop from its partnership with CRISPR Therapeutics. And though the topline proved positive, concerns over conditioning agents continue to linger over the collaboration, as well as the entire gene therapy space.

Presenting data from two trials at the European Hematology Association annual meeting, the pair announced that follow-up data of at least three months for 22 patients with genetic blood disorders indicated a “consistent and sustained” response to the experimental drug CTX001. All 15 patients with transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia did not need further blood transfusions and all seven with severe sickle cell disease were pain free, the biotechs announced.

Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, at Thursday's Senate Appropriations hearing (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors lam­bast new Alzheimer’s drug’s price but give Janet Wood­cock a free pass on the ap­proval de­ci­sion

Senate Finance Democrats took aim at Biogen’s pricey new Alzheimer’s drug on Thursday, but members on both sides of the aisle at a separate appropriations hearing didn’t question acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock on the approval.

“I was appalled that Biogen priced their Alzheimer’s drug approved by the FDA at $56,000 per year — I’m not going to debate whether this is effective or not, but it’s double the household median income for Michiganders over the age of 65,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said at the finance hearing.