Blue­bird’s gene ther­a­py for be­ta-tha­lassemia falls short of a cure, but still wows in 22 pa­tients

Af­ter go­ing back to the draw­ing board to come up with a bet­ter gene ther­a­py for be­ta-tha­lassemia, a dis­ease that in­ter­feres with the body’s abil­i­ty to pro­duce he­mo­glo­bin, in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing for blue­bird bio $BLUE have pro­duced some com­pelling da­ta to demon­strate that their ther­a­py can elim­i­nate or re­duce the need for blood trans­fu­sions.

But they don’t have a cure — yet.

Pub­lish­ing in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, the re­searchers re­port that they test­ed the treat­ment in 22 pa­tients. In the 9 pa­tients with the most se­vere form of the dis­ease, they re­port they were able to dra­mat­i­cal­ly re­duce the need for blood trans­fu­sions by 73% and elim­i­nate it for now in 3. Six of those pa­tients, though, have need­ed to con­tin­ue trans­fu­sions. And 12 of 13 pa­tients with a less se­vere form of the dis­ease cur­rent­ly no longer re­quire blood trans­fu­sions af­ter a sin­gle treat­ment — with a me­di­an of 26 months trans­fu­sion-free.

The in­ter­im da­ta great­ly ex­pands on the pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ences they can now bank on to demon­strate the ef­fi­ca­cy of the at­tempt at a once-and-done ther­a­py which af­fects hun­dreds of thou­sands of pa­tients. And the in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not aban­doned an at­tempt to find a com­plete cure for all.

“There is room for im­prove­ment, as we’d like to see the elim­i­na­tion of de­pen­den­cy on trans­fu­sion even for pa­tients with the most se­vere form of the dis­ease,” Har­vard Med­ical’s Philippe Leboulch told their in-house pub. “But there is al­so hope with pro­to­col mod­i­fi­ca­tions we have in­tro­duced in our Phase III tri­als.”

Blue­bird — run by CEO Nick Leschly — was forced to go back and change the man­u­fac­tur­ing process on Lenti­Glo­bin af­ter some un­even re­spons­es ear­ly on. Last sum­mer, the com­pa­ny came up with some en­cour­ag­ing da­ta on the first three pa­tients.

The gene ther­a­py is made by ex­tract­ing blood stem cells from pa­tients and in­sert­ing a func­tion­al be­ta-glo­bin gene in­to them, trans­plant­i­ng them af­ter a round of chemo to clear their bone mar­row.

Jerome Groop­man in The New York­er writes:

The chal­lenge now is find­ing ways to im­ple­ment a com­plex, po­ten­tial­ly life-sav­ing treat­ment in parts of the world where med­ical care is lim­it­ed. Es­tab­lished fa­cil­i­ties for au­tol­o­gous mar­row trans­plan­ta­tion al­ready ex­ist in many de­vel­oped na­tions, as do lab­o­ra­to­ries that can in­tro­duce a healthy glo­bin gene in­to stem cells. But, in some parts of the world where be­ta tha­lassemia is most com­mon, these fa­cil­i­ties do not yet ex­ist.

Con­trary to what the en­thu­si­asts may be pre­sent­ing to­day, there’s clear­ly room for im­prove­ment. And blue­bird is clear­ly not alone in the field try­ing to pro­duce a cure. CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics, for ex­am­ple, has been us­ing its gene edit­ing tech to see if it can find a last­ing cure for the dis­ease. And those oth­er pro­grams, in­clud­ing ef­forts at Bel­licum, will like­ly con­tin­ue to see if they can leapfrog blue­bird with some­thing bet­ter.


blue­bird bio CEO Nick Leschly Get­ty

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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Paul Sekhri

The next big biotech su­per­star? Paul Sekhri has some thoughts on that

It occasionally occurs to Paul Sekhri that if they pull this off, his company will be on the front page of the New York Times and a lead story in just about every major news outlet on the planet. He tries not to dwell on it, though.

“I just want to be laser-focused on getting to that point,” Sekhri says, before acknowledging, “Yes, it absolutely crossed my mind.”

Sekhri, a longtime biopharma executive with tenures at Sanofi and Novartis, is now entering year three as CEO of eGenesis, the biotech that George Church protégé Luhan Yang founded to genetically alter pigs so that they can be used for organ transplants. He led them through one megaround and has just closed another, raising $125 million from 17 different investors to push the first-ever (humanized) pig to human transplants into the clinic.

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Amit Munshi, Arena

One of Are­na's top drugs flops in a PhI­Ib study for IBS pain. But re­searchers tease out a pos­si­ble path for­ward as CEO ex­plores 's­trate­gic op­tion­s'

Four years ago, when Arena CEO Amit Munshi cut its ties to a troubled weight drug and doubled down on the pipeline, a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist figured prominently in the biotech’s future. On Tuesday evening, however, Munshi’s high hopes for the drug took a nasty hit after it failed a Phase IIb study for patients with irritable bowel syndrome pain.

Put through a randomized pace with 273 patients, researchers said it flat failed the primary endpoint among the large group with abdominal pain. But they quickly went on to highlight subgroup data, always a tricky and controversial ploy, where they spotlighted a positive p value for patients with moderate to severe pain who received the high dose of the drug — one of 3 provided in the study.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

With stars aligned and cash in re­serve, Bob Nelsen's Re­silience plans a makeover at 2 new fa­cil­i­ty ad­di­tions to its drug man­u­fac­tur­ing up­start

Bob Nelsen’s new, state-of-the-art drug manufacturing initiative is taking shape.

Just 3 months after gathering $800 million of launch money, a dream team board and a plan to shake up a field where he found too many bottlenecks and inefficiencies for the era of Covid-19, Resilience has snapped up a pair of facilities now in line for a retooling.

The company has acquired a 310,000-square-foot plant in Boston from Sanofi along with a 136,000-square-foot plant in Ontario to add to a network which CEO Rahul Singhvi says is just getting started on building his company’s operations up. The Sanofi deal comes with a contract to continue manufacturing one of its drugs.

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CEO Marco Taglietti (Scynexis)

'N­ev­er been more ur­gent:' Scynex­is looks to tack­le su­per­bug cri­sis with late-stage read­out for an­ti­fun­gal hope­ful

As the superbug crisis heats up around the world, Scynexis says it has new data from two interim analyses that prove its antifungal has the potential to treat a broad range of infections.

“The need for new anti-infectives capable of fighting the most resistant pathogens has never been more urgent as we confront the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” CEO Marco Taglietti said in a statement.

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When Takeda spun out a pipeline of experimental psychiatry drugs to Neurocrine in a $2 billion deal amid a post-merger shakeout, R&D chief Andy Plump described the therapies as “very interesting but still difficult.”

On Tuesday, we got some idea of how difficult.

San Diego-based Neurocrine revealed that one of the three spotlight clinical programs they’d acquired failed the primary endpoint in a Phase II trial for schizophrenia, registering a negative outcome on the change from baseline in the positive and negative syndrome scale/negative symptom factor score (PANSS NSFS).

Af­ter bail­ing on Covid-19 vac­cines, Mer­ck will team up with J&J to pro­duce its shot as part of un­usu­al Big Phar­ma pact

Merck took a big gamble when it opted to jump into the Covid-19 vaccine race late, and made an equally momentous decision to back out in late January. Now, looking to chip in on the effort, Merck reportedly agreed to team up with one of the companies that has already crossed the finish line.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce a partnership between drugmakers Merck and Johnson & Johnson to jointly produce J&J’s recombinant protein Covid-19 vaccine that received the FDA’s emergency use authorization Saturday, the Washington Post reported.

Ab­b­Vie tees up a biotech buy­out af­ter siz­ing up their Parkin­son's drug spun out of Ke­van Shokat's lab

AbbVie has teed up a small but intriguing biotech buyout after looking over the preclinical work it’s been doing in Parkinson’s disease.

The company is called Mitokinin, a Bay Area biotech spun out of the lab of UCSF’s Kevan Shokat, whose scientific explorations have formed the academic basis of a slew of startups in the biotech hub. One of Shokat’s PhD students in the lab, Nicholas Hertz, co-founded Mitokinin using their lab work on PINK1 suggesting that amping up its activity could play an important role in regulating the mitochondrial dysfunction contributing to Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis and progression.

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Fi­bro­Gen shares skid low­er as a sur­prise ad­comm rais­es risks on roxa OK

FibroGen will likely have to delay its US rollout for roxadustat once again.

In an unexpected move, the FDA is convening its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee to review the NDA in an advisory committee meeting. The date is yet to be confirmed.

Just a few weeks ago, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges predicted that the roxa approval could come ahead of the PDUFA date on March 20 — effusive despite already being let down once by the FDA’s extension of its review back in December. AstraZeneca, which is partnered with FibroGen on the chronic kidney disease-related anemia drug, disclosed regulators had requested further clarifying analyses of clinical data.