FDA slaps a par­tial hold on one of As­traZeneca's cru­cial dur­val­um­ab pro­grams

Shares of As­traZeneca $AZN start­ed to slide this morn­ing as the phar­ma gi­ant con­firmed that the FDA has placed a par­tial clin­i­cal hold on a Phase III re­search pro­gram in­volv­ing its check­point in­hibitor dur­val­um­ab, halt­ing new en­roll­ment.

The par­tial hold was in­sti­tut­ed af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked bleed­ing events in a Phase III com­bo study for dur­val­um­ab, its top in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al drug, with treme­li­mum­ab for head and neck can­cer. But the com­pa­ny cau­tions that all oth­er stud­ies are pro­ceed­ing as planned, not­ing that such bleed­ing events are not un­usu­al in head and neck can­cer.

That said, As­traZeneca can ill af­ford any de­lays in the de­vel­op­ment of dur­val­um­ab now. The com­pa­ny al­ready de­layed its de­vel­op­ment time­line for the check­point in­hibitor to al­low for com­bi­na­tion stud­ies, which As­traZeneca is count­ing on to make a splash with a late ar­rival in the field.

A set­back here will raise fresh ques­tions for As­traZeneca as it at­tempts to play catch-up to the mar­ket lead­ers in check­point in­hibitors. Dur­val­um­ab is now a dis­tant fourth — or fifth — in the mar­ket, like­ly to fol­low Roche’s $RHH­BY Tecen­triq and well be­hind Mer­ck ($MRK/Keytru­da) and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY, which has racked up block­buster sales with Op­di­vo.

As­traZeneca’s shares are down 5%.

The news about the safe­ty is­sue has been per­co­lat­ing in­side As­traZeneca for more than a month.

In a fol­lowup to a query, As­traZeneca said that they took the first step in paus­ing en­roll­ment in mid-Sep­tem­ber, more than a month ago, then fol­lowed up with no­tices to reg­u­la­tors and in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son:

The FDA re­cent­ly con­firmed their agree­ment with our ac­tion and placed a par­tial clin­i­cal hold on re­cruit­ment of new pa­tients while we com­plete our analy­sis. We sent an up­date to Clin­i­cal­Tri­als.gov with­in the usu­al time­frames. Our analy­sis is now com­plete and has been sub­mit­ted to FDA and un­der their re­view; we hope to re­sume [en­roll­ment] as soon as pos­si­ble.

Here’s the full ini­tial state­ment sent to End­points News:

Fol­low­ing the re­cent up­date on clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov, As­traZeneca con­firms that the US FDA has placed a par­tial clin­i­cal hold on the en­roll­ment of new pa­tients with head and neck squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma (HN­SCC) in clin­i­cal tri­als of dur­val­um­ab as monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with treme­li­mum­ab or oth­er po­ten­tial med­i­cines. All tri­als are con­tin­u­ing with ex­ist­ing pa­tients.

The par­tial clin­i­cal hold on new pa­tient [en­roll­ment] re­lates on­ly to head and neck can­cer. Tri­als for dur­val­um­ab in dif­fer­ent can­cer types, as monother­a­py or in com­bi­na­tion with treme­li­mum­ab or oth­er po­ten­tial med­i­cines, are pro­gress­ing as planned, with piv­otal da­ta in lung can­cer an­tic­i­pat­ed in the first half of 2017.

The FDA’s de­ci­sion fol­lows vol­un­tary ac­tion by As­traZeneca to pause [en­roll­ment] of new HN­SCC pa­tients while a de­tailed analy­sis is con­duct­ed of ad­verse events re­lat­ed to bleed­ing that were ob­served as part of rou­tine safe­ty mon­i­tor­ing of the Phase III KESTREL and EA­GLE tri­als. Bleed­ing is a known com­pli­ca­tion in treat­ments of head and neck can­cers pri­mar­i­ly due to the na­ture of the un­der­ly­ing dis­ease, the prox­im­i­ty of tu­mours to ma­jor blood ves­sels and use of pri­or can­cer ther­a­pies, which may in­volve surgery and ra­di­a­tion.

As­traZeneca has sub­mit­ted its analy­sis of the ob­served bleed­ing events to the FDA for re­view and is work­ing close­ly with the Agency, pro­vid­ing the re­quired in­for­ma­tion to re­sume new pa­tient [en­roll­ment] as soon as pos­si­ble.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; 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.

The slate of products we’re offering here at Endpoints is continuing to grow, and it’s not just limited to editorial. If you haven’t, do visit your reader profile to see if there are any other weekly newsletters you’re interested in — as each comes with its own exclusive content. And don’t miss the publisher’s note from Arsalan Arif on Endpoints Studio, our latest avenue for advertising on Endpoints.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Re­searchers move clos­er to de­ci­pher­ing blood clots from As­traZeneca, J&J's Covid-19 vac­cines

Researchers may be nearing an answer for the mysterious and life-threatening blood clots that appeared on very rare occasions in people who received the J&J or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The new work builds on an early hypothesis researchers in Norway put forward last spring, when the cases first cropped up. They proposed the events were similar to blood clots that can occur in a small subset of patients who receive heparin, one of the most commonly used blood thinners.

Ed Kaye, Stoke Therapeutics CEO

Stoke touts ear­ly signs of ef­fi­ca­cy for Dravet syn­drome drug

Two and a half years after driving his antisense oligonucleotide platform to Wall Street, Stoke Therapeutics CEO Ed Kaye is painting a fuller picture of the company’s first clinical data. And though the trial wasn’t powered to detect statistical significance, Kaye says the readout shows early signs of efficacy in kids with a rare, drug-resistant form of epilepsy

STK-001 was well-tolerated in single and multiple doses in 22 Dravet syndrome patients between the ages of 2 and 18 years old, Stoke announced on Friday. What’s more, 12 of the 17 evaluable patients at the time (70.6%) saw reductions from baseline in convulsive seizure frequency, according to the company.