IDO rout: Piv­otal tri­als with Bris­tol-My­ers, Mer­ck and As­traZeneca dumped in wake of In­cyte's PhI­II im­plo­sion

The IDO R&D pipeline is in dan­ger of be­ing ex­ter­mi­nat­ed.

In the wake of a piv­otal fail­ure of In­cyte’s $IN­CY lead IDO drug epaca­do­stat, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY be­came the third play­er forced to re­trench in that im­muno-on­col­o­gy field, drop­ping three late-stage stud­ies of a ri­val drug it bagged in a $1.25 bil­lion buy­out. But that was just the start of a rout.

In­cyte re­port­ed this morn­ing that its wide-rang­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with Big Phar­ma play­ers are com­ing un­done. In their Q1 an­nounce­ment, echo­ing the fail­ure of ECHO-301, the com­pa­ny not­ed:

En­roll­ment will be dis­con­tin­ued in the four ad­di­tion­al piv­otal tri­als of epaca­do­stat in com­bi­na­tion with pem­brolizum­ab (Mer­ck’s Keytru­da), and in the two piv­otal tri­als of epaca­do­stat in com­bi­na­tion with nivolum­ab (Bris­tol-My­ers’ Op­di­vo); each of these stud­ies will be amend­ed to en­able pa­tients and their physi­cians to con­sid­er al­ter­na­tive ther­a­peu­tic op­tions. The piv­otal tri­al in com­bi­na­tion with dur­val­um­ab (As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi) in Stage 3 lung can­cer will not be ini­ti­at­ed.

A spokesper­son for As­traZeneca al­so tells me that there is “an­oth­er Phase II (com­bi­na­tion study) in sol­id tu­mors and we’re go­ing to stop en­roll­ment there too.” That will be all for the ECHO-203 study — epaca­do­stat plus dur­val­um­ab again. “In­cyte did present some da­ta from ECHO-203 at AACR: 15 pa­tients with pan­cre­at­ic can­cer were en­rolled across mul­ti­ple dose lev­els, no clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty was ob­served.”

In ad­di­tion, In­cyte said that it is “sig­nif­i­cant­ly down­siz­ing the epaca­do­stat de­vel­op­ment pro­gram,” sig­nal­ing a painful re­treat for a one-time star drug that com­mand­ed pro­jec­tions of block­buster peak sales.

Ac­cord­ing to clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov, in­ves­ti­ga­tors for the big biotech to­day ter­mi­nat­ed a Phase III study of BMS-986205 in com­bi­na­tion with Bris­tol-My­ers’ Op­di­vo for front­line head and neck can­cer. An­oth­er Phase III study for front­line Stage IV or re­cur­rent non-small cell lung can­cer us­ing BMS-986205 and Op­di­vo with or with­out chemo ver­sus chemo alone was with­drawn. And there’s a third study for melanoma that’s now ac­tive but not re­cruit­ing af­ter en­list­ing 72 pa­tients.

A spokesper­son for Bris­tol-My­ers told us Mon­day night:

Based on emerg­ing da­ta on the IDO path­way, we closed reg­is­tra­tional stud­ies of our IDO in­hibitor, BMS-986205, in melanoma, SC­CHN and NSCLC. We re­main com­mit­ted to con­tin­ued re­search of BMS-986205-based com­bi­na­tions in an in­formed and sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly ro­bust man­ner. We will con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate BMS-986205-based com­bi­na­tions in our Phase 1/2 study, CA017-003.

Sep­a­rate­ly, we are work­ing quick­ly with In­cyte to as­sess our pro­gram un­der the col­lab­o­ra­tion.

NewLink $NLNK was the first to over­haul its ap­proach on IDO fol­low­ing the In­cyte dis­as­ter.  The biotech scrapped a melanoma study that would have eval­u­at­ed in­dox­i­mod in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors Keytru­da or Op­di­vo in 600 pa­tients. In a press re­lease, NewLink ex­plained the de­ci­sion was made “in the con­text of the fail­ure of a com­peti­tor’s tri­al of its en­zy­mat­ic IDO in­hibitor in a sim­i­lar clin­i­cal set­ting.

Bris­tol-My­ers’ de­ci­sion — first re­port­ed by Xcon­o­my — un­der­scores a grow­ing be­lief that In­cyte’s fail­ure was as much a fail­ure of the class as an in­di­vid­ual ther­a­py, po­ten­tial­ly tor­pe­do­ing a wide swath of clin­i­cal tri­als now in the pipeline.

In­cyte frankly con­ced­ed that its piv­otal fail­ure raised doubts about its en­tire ef­fort, which in­cludes a host of com­bi­na­tion stud­ies with check­point lead­ers like Mer­ck and As­traZeneca. In this case, Bris­tol-My­ers is cut­ting back on a drug that it ac­quired in a block­buster deal to ac­quire Flexus 3 years ago. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have re­peat­ed­ly tout­ed the drug as a po­ten­tial lynch­pin in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, fo­cus­ing on an en­zyme that sup­press­es the im­mune cells Op­di­vo and a whole new class of PD-1/L1 check­points are de­signed to un­leash in an at­tack on can­cer cells.

Iron­i­cal­ly, In­cyte has been pur­su­ing lit­i­ga­tion against one of its for­mer sci­en­tists, claim­ing he de­fect­ed to Flexus with IDO trade se­crets in hand, well be­fore the buy­out. Bris­tol-My­ers, though, has stead­fast­ly as­sert­ed — with some sup­port from an­a­lysts — that it had the bet­ter IDO that could leapfrog epaca­do­stat. The leap­ing in IDO, though, has stopped. At least for now.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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No­var­tis is eye­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Med­Co buy­out as Jer­sey biotech nears NDA — re­ports

To get from Novartis’ US headquarters to the Medicines Company, you make a left out of a square concrete building on NJ-Route 10, follow it past the sun orange veranda of Jersey’s Hot Bagels and the inexplicable green Vermont cabin that houses the Whippany Railway Museum until you turn right and immediately arrive at a rectangular glass building. It should take you about 12 minutes.

Reports are out that Novartis may be making that trip. Amid a torrent of Phase III data burnishing MedCo’s chances at a blockbuster cholesterol drug,  Bloomberg News is reporting that Novartis is looking to acquire the Jersey-based biotech.

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UP­DAT­ED: In a land­mark first glimpse of hu­man da­ta from Ver­tex, CRISPR/Cas9 gene ther­a­py sig­nals ear­ly ben­e­fit

Preliminary data on two patients with blood disorders that have been administered with Vertex and partner CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-editing therapy suggest the technology is safe and effective, marking the first instance of the benefit of the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in humans suffering from disease.

Patients in these phase I/II studies give up peripheral blood from which hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are isolated. The cells are tinkered with using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and the edited cells — CTX001 — are infused back into the patient via a stem cell transplant. The objective of CTX001 is to fix the errant hemoglobin gene in patents with two blood disorders: beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, by unleashing the production of fetal hemoglobin.

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Badrul Chowdhury. FDA via Flickr

As­traZeneca los­es an­oth­er ex­ec­u­tive to biotech, as Badrul Chowd­hury moves to Savara

Another executive is migrating from the echelons of Big Pharma to the corridors of small biotech.

In April 2018, Badrul Chowdhury took his more than two decades of experience at the FDA to AstraZeneca, where he took on the role of senior vice president and chief physician-scientist for respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity late-stage development in biopharmaceuticals R&D.

After about a year and a half in this role, Chowdhury is moving to a small Texas biotech called Savara, where he will serve as chief medical officer.

Yiannis Kiachopoulos and Artur Saudabayev, co-founders of Causaly

Lon­don AI up­start, which counts No­var­tis as a cus­tomer, can teach your com­put­er to read

When Amazon developed a machine-learning tool to make its recruitment process more efficient — the man-made system absorbed the gender-bias of its human makers, and the project was aborted. In the field of biopharmaceuticals, the way researchers train their machine learning algorithms can skew the outcome of predictions. But before those predictions can be made, the engine must learn to read to make sense of explosive volume of knowledge out there.

Burt Adelman. Novo Ventures

Here's a $25M seed fund aimed at back­ing some brash new drug ideas out of the Broad

As a former academic and a seasoned drug developer, Burt Adelman knew when he was recruited as a senior advisor to Novo Ventures in 2017 that one of his key priorities needs to be introducing the fund to the network he was so deeply embedded in.

“I was thinking long and hard on how can I, as a Boston insider, help Novo really get inside the ecosystem of Boston biotech?” he recalled in an interview with Endpoints News.

Welling­ton lines up a $393M bankroll for its next round of pri­vate biotech bets — and they’re like­ly think­ing big

Wellington Management made some uncustomary waves at the beginning of the year when it threw its considerable weight against Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene buyout. But after Bristol-Myers’ biggest investor conceded that game to the influential proxy firms involved, they’re now going to end the year by rolling out a big new investment fund for a new stable of fledgling biotechs on the private side of the industry.

As uter­ine race with Ab­b­Vie heats up, My­ovant eyes FDA ap­proval with tri­al re­sults from prostate can­cer

Myovant has long had a secret weapon in its uterine rivalry with AbbVie: Men.

While the small Swiss biotech has jockeyed with the Illinois-based giant for a foothold in the endometriosis and uterine fibroid therapy market, the company has been developing the same lead compound, relugolix, for use in one of the most common cancers for the uterus-less: prostate cancer. Today, Myovant is out with positive topline results from its big Phase III trial on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist. They say they’ve reached every primary and secondary endpoint with p values less than .0001.