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.

Australia’s Avance Clinical: no IND required and a 43.5% rebate on clinical spend for CGT biotechs

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The cell and gene therapies (CGT) sector offers unprecedented opportunities for patient disease management across virtually all therapeutic areas. However, finding the right accredited clinical teams to take a therapy through to the clinic and manage the regulatory process can be a major challenge for biotechs with a CGT product.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Omi­cron: Re­searchers scram­ble as new coro­n­avirus mu­ta­tion takes flight around the globe — Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, Mod­er­na vow swift re­sponse

As Americans were waking up for their Black Friday rituals, they were greeted with the news that a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus has appeared and been sequenced — after it caught an international flight to Hong Kong. And two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine developers promised delivery of a new vaccine “within 100 days” if necessary while a third spelled out its 3-prong strategy hours later.

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Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; 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.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

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Troy Wilson, Kura CEO

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hits the red light on an ear­ly-stage AML study af­ter a pa­tient dies

The FDA has slapped a clinical hold on the early-stage program for one of Kura Oncology’s cancer drugs following a patient’s death in a clinical trial.

The biotech $KURA reported early Wednesday that the Phase Ib study of KO-539 for acute myeloid leukemia would be halted, suspending enrollment, while researchers and the FDA probed the death. Patients already on the drug can continue taking it.

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What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Am­gen, Lil­ly, Bio­haven mi­graine brand re­call low, study says; No­var­tis looks to re­make drug launch mod­el

Forget the migraine marketing brand wars. When it comes to patients, many can’t even name one despite substantial advertising efforts, according to a new study from Phreesia that concludes CGRP migraine drugmakers still need to work on brand recognition.

Almost half (47%) of the patients Phreesia surveyed couldn’t name one preventative migraine brand. The best performer was Topamax, a small molecule anticonvulsant that’s been around since 2004, which 26% of migraine patients could recall. Among the new CGRP brand names recognized, Amgen’s Aimovig ranked highest with 8% recall, while Eli Lilly’s Emgality and Biohaven’s Nurtec tied at 7% and Teva’s Ajovy was remembered by 3% of patients.

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Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

Glax­o­SmithK­line places a risky bet on Ar­row­head­'s RNA drug in the fail­ure-strewn NASH field

As activist investors champ at the bit for change at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma giant has turned over many rocks to find an R&D success to present to its detractors. In NASH, a field strewn with failures, GSK hopes a new license deal can churn out a much-needed winner.

GSK will pay $120 million in upfront cash and $910 million in downstream milestones to develop and sell ARO-HSD, Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals’ RNA interference drug targeting fatty liver disease nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the companies said Monday.

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Name that vac­cine: From Comir­naty to Spike­vax to Nu­vax­ovid, Covid-19 shot­s' brand names re­main lit­tle-known

Most people know if they’re “Team Pfizer” or “Team Moderna,” but few know if they got the Comirnaty or Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine. Those are the brand names of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively, however they have yet to take hold with consumers, media or even medical professionals.

And there are others. Covid vaccine brand names also include AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, Novavax’s Nuvaxovid, and Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s Vidprevtyn. J&J’s Janssen-developed Covid vaccine is the lone major holdout and is still yet to be named, if ever. In EMA filings approving its conditional use, the brand name is listed simply as “Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen.”

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Joan Perelló, Sanifit CEO

Joan Perel­ló set out 17 years ago to de­vel­op a drug. And to­day he's be­ing re­ward­ed with a $424M biotech buy­out

Joan Perelló beat all the odds with his little Spanish biotech startup Sanifit.

Working on the far perimeter of the big US/European drug development scene, he took a drug born out of his PhD work and got enough seed cash to get started. That’s one near miracle. In the second near miracle he gathered a previously unheard of venture raise in Spain — helping build an industry ecosystem from scratch — to pursue a successful search for solid human data for his drug, SNF472. And while gathering a virtual team of developers from Europe and the US, the CEO/co-founder steered it into the late-stage arena.

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