Bris­tol-My­ers stag­gered by a stun­ning check­point set­back, hands Mer­ck a free pass on front­line lung can­cer com­bo

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY fans can scratch any hopes of an ac­cel­er­at­ed fil­ing for a com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy as a front­line ther­a­py for lung can­cer. The big biotech an­nounced in a terse state­ment late Thurs­day that it will not pur­sue an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval due to the “re­view of da­ta avail­able at this time.”

More in­sight? For­get about it. Says Bris­tol-My­ers:

“In or­der to pro­tect the in­tegri­ty of on­go­ing reg­is­tra­tional stud­ies, the com­pa­ny will not be pro­vid­ing ad­di­tion­al de­tails.”

The an­nounce­ment nix­es any hopes that the com­bo can pro­vide near-term re­lief from Mer­ck’s as­sault on the front­line fran­chise with its stun­ning ear­ly fil­ing on a com­bi­na­tion of Keytru­da and chemo for first line use. Bris­tol-My­ers’s work on Check­mate-227, the key clin­i­cal pro­gram that will de­cide the fate of Op­di­vo’s fu­ture, is ex­pect­ed to last in­to 2018.

Bris­tol-My­ers’ shares plunged 10% in ear­ly trad­ing Fri­day, elim­i­nat­ing more than $9 bil­lion in mar­ket cap. Its loss was Mer­ck’s gain, which saw its stock jump 4%. And As­traZeneca was caught in this vor­tex as well, with shares drop­ping 2% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing as an­a­lysts raised doubts about its strat­e­gy for dur­val­um­ab, which will play a crit­i­cal role in CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot’s plan to make a come­back at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Mer­ck now has plen­ty of time to grab the lead with its own ear­ly com­bo ap­proach, as As­traZeneca still looks for a come-from-be­hind win on dur­val­um­ab and treme­li­mum­ab, with pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival da­ta slat­ed to ar­rive this sum­mer — though over­all sur­vival da­ta won’t like­ly ar­rive on that ex­per­i­men­tal com­bo un­til 2018 as well.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez, Leerink

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink had some time to con­sid­er the im­pact, and he was dis­turbed by the im­pli­ca­tions for Bris­tol-My­ers as well as As­traZeneca. He not­ed:

This is a clear set­back for BMY, par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of the agency’s re­cent ac­cep­tance of MRK’s (MP) fil­ing for the Keytru­da (pem­brolizum­ab; an­ti-PD-1) + chemother­a­py reg­i­men. With the CM-227 tri­al ex­pect­ed to read­out in 1H:18, this al­so could give AZN (OP) a pot’l head start with its dur­val­um­ab (an­ti-PD-L1) + treme­li­mum­ab (an­ti-CT­LA-4) com­bi­na­tion in 1L NSCLC, as­sum­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from the MYS­TIC tri­al (ex­pect­ed in mid-2017). How­ev­er, if MRK and RHH­BY’s (NR) Phase 3 IO+Chemo tri­als are both suc­cess­ful and IO+IO com­bos fail to im­press, this would leave very lit­tle room for ei­ther BMY or AZN to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves in the 1L NSCLC mar­ket. This would be par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing and dis­ap­point­ing in the wake of our re­cent dis­cus­sions with lung can­cer KOLs.

In an­oth­er ma­jor set­back for Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, its first piv­otal study for Op­di­vo in front­line lung can­cer failed last year, in part be­cause in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­cid­ed to tack­le a broad swathe of pa­tients. Its con­sis­tent­ly dis­ap­point­ing re­sponse on lung can­cer has ran­kled an­a­lysts and in­vestors, who once gam­bled that Bris­tol would be the king­pin in check­point drugs.

Mer­ck $MRK in the mean­time, is fol­low­ing up with dozens of stud­ies of Keytru­da com­bos. Just a few days ago the com­pa­ny turned heads once again with plans to com­bine Keytru­da with In­cyte’s IDO1 in­hibitor epaca­do­stat in lung can­cer and sev­er­al oth­er on­col­o­gy in­di­ca­tions.

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

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John Reed, Sanofi’s global head of R&D (Image: Endpoints News)

IL-6 to the res­cue? Sanofi, Re­gen­eron bar­rel ahead in­to an­oth­er piv­otal ef­fort test­ing Kevzara for Covid-19

Sanofi and Regeneron have hustled up a second pivotal trial for their IL-6 drug Kevzara as a potential therapy for severe cases of Covid-19. The partners swiftly assembled a study drawing patients from Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Canada and Russia, planning to sign up 300 patients in a Phase II to test a low and high dose of Kevzara against placebo, setting the stage for the Phase III followup.

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Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: Bris­tol My­ers sus­pends clin­i­cal tri­als, grounds field team; Vir ush­ers an­ti­body can­di­dates to hu­man test­ing

The global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is manifesting more profoundly every day. With Spain’s death toll now surpassing China’s and India on full lockdown, the number of confirmed cases around the world has exceeded 436,000 while recoveries edged close to 112,000.

While the outbreak derails R&D at another pharma giant, several drugmakers have some encouraging updates on both experimental and repurposed molecules. Philanthropic campaigns in anticipation of the economic fallout continue. An Australian biotech is taking extreme measures to hunker down. There’s also an alternative epidemiology model emerging out of the UK, stirring up more discussion regarding the true extent of the infections in the country.

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