(Photo courtesy Pfizer)

FDA au­tho­rizes the first at-home pills from Pfiz­er to treat Covid-19

The FDA on Wednes­day signed off on Pfiz­er’s Covid-19 pills, which are meant to help keep peo­ple out of the hos­pi­tal.

The news comes at a cru­cial mo­ment, as the Omi­cron vari­ant has tak­en over Delta as the promi­nent strain in the US, and as mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body in­fu­sions will like­ly be in very short sup­ply as two of the three cur­rent­ly mar­ket­ed are in­ef­fec­tive against Omi­cron.

Pfiz­er will see ear­ly sup­ply con­straints of their pills, which are made up of nir­ma­trelvir tablets and ri­ton­avir tablets, co-pack­aged for oral use, mean­ing doc­tors will have to be very care­ful on how they’re doled out. And if Mer­ck’s pill is au­tho­rized soon too, there may be more op­tions, al­though there’s al­so a dras­tic dif­fer­ence in ef­fi­ca­cy be­tween the two.

“I don’t think you would find any­one who would pre­fer the Mer­ck pill to the Pfiz­er pill, giv­en the da­ta ev­i­dent so far,” Walid Gel­lad, a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh, told End­points News.

Mer­ck’s pill saw its ef­fi­ca­cy plum­met be­tween in­ter­im and fi­nal analy­ses in its piv­otal tri­al — from a 50% rel­a­tive re­duc­tion in hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths at the in­ter­im to just 30% in the fi­nal re­sults — mean­ing that more doc­tors will like­ly re­ly on the Pfiz­er pill. There are al­so ques­tions about how Mer­ck’s pill works, which led France’s ex­perts to re­ject it.

Pfiz­er, mean­while, re­cent­ly said that its pill, known com­mer­cial­ly as Paxlovid, proved to re­duce the rel­a­tive risk of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion or death by 89% (with­in three days of symp­tom on­set) and 88% (with­in five days of symp­tom on­set) com­pared to place­bo in a tri­al of more than 2,000 peo­ple.

The FDA al­so said in the EUA’s health care provider fact sheet that the pill should stand up against the Omi­cron vari­ant, but the FDA did not re­view the pill be­fore an ad­comm so most of the tri­al da­ta has on­ly been re­leased in Pfiz­er press re­leas­es so far. And all pa­tients in the Pfiz­er tri­al had not re­ceived a Covid-19 vac­cine.

Gel­lad warned that the “ben­e­fit of the pills def­i­nite­ly goes down in vac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple, and the mag­ni­tude of that re­duc­tion in ben­e­fit is still not clear. We on­ly got pre­lim­i­nary da­ta in the press re­lease about im­pact on high-risk vac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple in the non-com­plet­ed tri­al. There will be some ben­e­fit, but pre­sum­ably not near­ly the im­pact as on un­vac­ci­nat­ed.”

The Pfiz­er pill is au­tho­rized for those over 12 years of age, weigh­ing at least 88 pounds, with pos­i­tive re­sults of di­rect SARS-CoV-2 test­ing, and who are at high risk for pro­gres­sion to se­vere Covid, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tal­iza­tion or death. But there are cer­tain re­stric­tions, with FDA say­ing Paxlovid is not rec­om­mend­ed in pa­tients with se­vere kid­ney or se­vere liv­er im­pair­ment, adding:

Be­cause Paxlovid works, in part, by in­hibit­ing a group of en­zymes that break down cer­tain drugs, Paxlovid is con­traindi­cat­ed with cer­tain drugs that are high­ly de­pen­dent on those en­zymes for me­tab­o­lism and for which el­e­vat­ed con­cen­tra­tions of cer­tain drugs are as­so­ci­at­ed with se­ri­ous and/or life-threat­en­ing re­ac­tions. Paxlovid is al­so con­traindi­cat­ed with drugs that, con­verse­ly, strong­ly in­duce those same en­zymes, lead­ing to the faster break­down of nir­ma­trelvir or ri­ton­avir, as re­duced con­cen­tra­tions of nir­ma­trelvir or ri­ton­avir may be as­so­ci­at­ed with po­ten­tial­ly los­ing vi­ro­log­ic re­sponse and de­vel­op­ing vi­ral re­sis­tance. Paxlovid can­not be start­ed im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter dis­con­tin­u­ing such med­ica­tions be­cause the ef­fects of those med­ica­tions re­main af­ter dis­con­tin­u­a­tion.

But with very lim­it­ed sup­plies ini­tial­ly (65,000 cours­es are ship­ping the first week of Jan­u­ary), on­ly a hand­ful of states will see more than 3,000 cours­es of Paxlovid in that first week next month.

“An ad­di­tion­al 200,000 cours­es are ex­pect­ed in Jan­u­ary, ramp­ing up steadi­ly in the months ahead,” HHS said of Pfiz­er’s pill. The US has bought 10 mil­lion cours­es, and Pfiz­er said in a state­ment that it al­so raised pro­duc­tion pro­jec­tions from 80 mil­lion to 120 mil­lion cours­es of treat­ment in 2022, as a re­sult of con­tin­ued in­vest­ments.

The US al­so may have about 400,000 cours­es of Mer­ck’s pill avail­able in the next few days, if au­tho­rized, ac­cord­ing to a Bloomberg re­port. But by the end of Jan­u­ary, the US gov­ern­ment ex­pects to have about 3 mil­lion cours­es of Mer­ck’s pill.

Al­so by the end of Jan­u­ary, the US will have about 300,000 cours­es of the Glax­o­SmithK­line and Vir mAb treat­ment, and an­oth­er 55,000 dos­es were shipped out this week.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; 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.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.