Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Re­my Luthringer Min­er­va

A to­tal of 365 pa­tients with no oth­er psy­chi­atric con­di­tions were en­rolled in the study and ran­dom­ized in­to five groups: three dif­fer­ent dos­es of sel­torex­ant, place­bo, and Am­bi­en. Un­like the house­hold drug, which pro­motes sleep by ac­ti­vat­ing the GA­BA neu­ro­trans­mit­ter, Min­er­va’s drug is “de­signed to mim­ic the nat­ur­al sleep process by in­hibit­ing the brain mech­a­nisms that pro­mote ex­ces­sive wake­ful­ness,” CEO Re­my Luthringer said in a state­ment.

The drug scored a clear win in im­prov­ing la­ten­cy to per­sis­tent sleep (LPS) com­pared to place­bo, as re­searchers tracked es­ca­lat­ing least squares mean on changes from base­line on Night 1: 16.4 min­utes (5 mg), 32.2 min­utes (10 mg) and 36.6 min­utes (20 mg), with p ≤0.001 on the two high­er dos­es. “Ad­van­tages over place­bo were al­so ob­served at Night 13: 5.2 min­utes for the 5 mg, 28.6 min­utes for the 10 mg (p ≤0.001), and 21.0 min­utes for the 20 mg (p ≤0.001),” the com­pa­ny added.

But per­haps more in­ter­est­ing were the sec­ondary analy­sis in which sel­torex­ant seems to work bet­ter than Am­bi­en in terms of LPS as well as WA­SO-6, a mea­sure­ment of dis­turbed sleep through­out the night. That was true on Night 13 on both scores, no­table be­cause Am­bi­en did not show su­pe­ri­or­i­ty over place­bo on the same night, like­ly due to a known, wan­ing ef­fect of the stan­dard-of-care drug.

Min­er­va had much less to say about safe­ty — a big deal on sleep drugs — oth­er than that it’s well tol­er­at­ed, with treat­ment-emer­gent ad­verse events (TEAEs) tak­ing place in 33.8% of pa­tients across the three drug arms com­pared to 49.3% in place­bo group and 42.5% in the Am­bi­en co­hort. The FDA sets a high bar on safe­ty for sleep drugs, cre­at­ing a chal­lenge that has kept most small play­ers out of a dif­fi­cult field. Mar­ket­ing is al­so a big chal­lenge, even for the ma­jor bio­phar­mas.

The sub­se­quent surge on share price $NERV — up 51.93% and reach­ing $6.43 — helped Min­er­va re­cov­er some lost grounds from the con­tro­ver­sial read­out in May. At one point pre-mar­ket trad­ing brought the stock over $7 but the en­thu­si­asm has sub­sided as in­vestors pon­der on the mar­ket­ing chal­lenges ly­ing ahead.

That tri­al saw a de­crease in the Mont­gomery-As­berg De­pres­sion Rat­ing Scale among the 20 mg group, where pa­tients were treat­ed with the oral pill along­side stan­dard an­ti­de­pres­sant ther­a­pies.

Ven­tur­ing in­to a field most biotechs have steered clear of, Min­er­va’s over­all propo­si­tion with sel­torex­ant is to treat in­som­nia and re­lat­ed mood dis­or­ders by tin­ker­ing with the orex­in sys­tem, which is as­so­ci­at­ed with feed­ing, home­osta­sis, arousal, mod­u­la­tion of sleep-wake cy­cles and mo­ti­va­tion. J&J signed on as a part­ner to the ORX2 in­hibitor on two in­di­ca­tions in 2014, but re­turned the rights for in­som­nia three years lat­er.

Pa­tients with de­pres­sion who al­so strug­gle to sleep — around 105 to­tal be­tween the drug and place­bo arms — showed a big­ger im­prove­ment in the MADRS than the over­all tri­al pop­u­la­tion, the com­pa­ny had re­port­ed.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: J&J faces ques­tions on old­er adults, asymp­to­matic in­fec­tion, long-term im­mu­ni­ty

The FDA adcomm has advanced to the free-for-all question stage of the hearing and, as they did for Moderna and Pfizer, committee members are raising questions about the lingering issues surrounding the vaccine.

In J&J’s case, one of those unknowns is a group of participants who appeared to respond worse to the vaccine: those over 60 with comorbidities. In that group, the vaccine was only 42% effective at stopping disease starting 28 days after vaccination.

Genen­tech plots $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Genentech has committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Roche’s big South San Francisco hub will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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