FDA OKs first cannabi­noid, gives green light to GW Phar­ma’s Epid­i­olex for rare seizures

GW Phar­ma $GW­PH fin­ished its layup at the FDA to­day with Epid­i­olex, grab­bing its first ever mar­ket­ing OK for one of its cannabi­noid drugs and set­ting up the biotech for a ma­jor shift to­ward com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

Justin Grover, GW Phar­ma CEO

Two months af­ter a unan­i­mous rec­om­men­da­tion by an out­side group of FDA ex­perts and some glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tions in the in­ter­nal re­view, GW will now set out to open up a new class of meds af­ter demon­strat­ing the drug’s abil­i­ty to pre­vent seizures in chil­dren suf­fer­ing from rare cas­es of Lennox-Gas­taut syn­drome and Dravet syn­drome. 

The ap­proval was record­ed on the FDA’s web­site and word spread quick­ly through Twit­ter.

Clar­i­vate has pegged 2022 sales at a block­buster sized $1.2 bil­lion, mak­ing this roll­out a huge­ly im­por­tant event for the UK-based com­pa­ny.

The FDA’s Scott Got­tlieb did the hon­ors in the state­ment to­day, cel­e­brat­ing GW for the work they did, and warn­ing any­one else against try­ing to mar­ket cannabis-re­lat­ed prod­ucts with du­bi­ous sup­port for their claims.

Scott Got­tlieb

“This ap­proval serves as a re­minder that ad­vanc­ing sound de­vel­op­ment pro­grams that prop­er­ly eval­u­ate ac­tive in­gre­di­ents con­tained in mar­i­jua­na can lead to im­por­tant med­ical ther­a­pies. And, the FDA is com­mit­ted to this kind of care­ful sci­en­tif­ic re­search and drug de­vel­op­ment,” said Got­tlieb. “Con­trolled clin­i­cal tri­als test­ing the safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy of a drug, along with care­ful re­view through the FDA’s drug ap­proval process, is the most ap­pro­pri­ate way to bring mar­i­jua­na-de­rived treat­ments to pa­tients. Be­cause of the ad­e­quate and well-con­trolled clin­i­cal stud­ies that sup­port­ed this ap­proval, pre­scribers can have con­fi­dence in the drug’s uni­form strength and con­sis­tent de­liv­ery that sup­port ap­pro­pri­ate dos­ing need­ed for treat­ing pa­tients with these com­plex and se­ri­ous epilep­sy syn­dromes. We’ll con­tin­ue to sup­port rig­or­ous sci­en­tif­ic re­search on the po­ten­tial med­ical us­es of mar­i­jua­na-de­rived prod­ucts and work with prod­uct de­vel­op­ers who are in­ter­est­ed in bring­ing pa­tients safe and ef­fec­tive, high qual­i­ty prod­ucts. But, at the same time, we are pre­pared to take ac­tion when we see the il­le­gal mar­ket­ing of CBD-con­tain­ing prod­ucts with se­ri­ous, un­proven med­ical claims. Mar­ket­ing un­ap­proved prod­ucts, with un­cer­tain dosages and for­mu­la­tions can keep pa­tients from ac­cess­ing ap­pro­pri­ate, rec­og­nized ther­a­pies to treat se­ri­ous and even fa­tal dis­eases.”

GW CEO Justin Gov­er told the Fi­nan­cial Times over the week­end that it had tak­en “an aw­ful long time to get to where we are . . . but we’ve re­al­ly built a huge lead. We’re the world-lead­ers in cannabi­noid sci­ence, and I think we ex­pect to stay there for quite some time.”

From GW’s per­spec­tive this is just the be­gin­ning, with plans to pur­sue more re­search work in a va­ri­ety of ail­ments.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; 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.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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No­var­tis to pay near­ly $178M in law­suit over BRAF drug — and will be on the hook for roy­al­ty

After a four-year battle over a cancer drug patent, Novartis has been ordered by a California judge to pay a Daiichi Sankyo subsidiary $177.8 million.

Plexxikon filed a lawsuit against the pharma giant in 2017, alledging that Tafinlar, a rival to its melanoma drug Zelboraf that was brought to market in collaboration with Roche, has stepped on its intellectual property. The jury ruled in its favor, adding that the infringement is in fact willful.

Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

Bio­gen has a shaky end to H1 with a $542M write-off adding to its woes — but an­a­lysts see big rev­enue ahead for Aduhelm

All eyes at Biogen’s Q2 earnings call Thursday were on Aduhelm, but investors also got a glimpse of what Biogen would have faced had the FDA not opted to approve their controversial Alzheimer’s drug.

That glimpse, revealing a combination of declining sales, growing competition and failed medicines, underscores the stakes of the big biotech’s Aduhelm efforts, as execs punch back at the criticism they’ve engendered in the political and medical world and vigorously pushes its sales staff to roll out the drug as fast as possible.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Bio­gen de­fends slow roll­out of new Alzheimer's drug, crit­i­cizes neg­a­tive me­dia at­ten­tion

As Biogen execs bemoaned the negative media coverage around Aduhelm’s approval a month ago, the biotech isn’t gaining much traction yet in using its new drug, largely due to a lack of insurance coverage, according to an earnings call Thursday.

Management indicated that of the nearly 900 sites that were prepped and ready following Aduhelm’s approval, 325 of those, or about 35%, have completed a positive pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) review or won’t require one. The review is a step some hospitals or health systems take prior to using a new drug. Some major sites, however, have said they won’t participate.