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.

Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Jan van de Winkel, Genmab CEO

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, Gen­mab turn on TV for a high­light reel in cer­vi­cal can­cer — but a ri­val biotech promis­es a bet­ter show

Seattle Genetics $SGEN and their partners at Genmab $GMAB polished up some positive Phase II numbers for their antibody drug conjugate tisotumab vedotin — you can call it TV — for recurrent cervical cancer. And while they mapped out a shortcut to a potential quick approval, the big challenge for this team is being presented by a rival biotech which muscled its way into the spotlight for the same indication a year ago.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Days af­ter In­ter­cept re­jec­tion, Akero surges on ‘un­prece­dent­ed‘ NASH da­ta

A year and a half after scoring a $70 million Series B and a top Gilead executive as CEO, Akero Therapeutics has announced new data on their NASH drug. And with the field still reeling from a surprise FDA rejection this week, the news was enough to send their stock surging.

Akero had already said in March that its lead drug had beaten placebo in its Phase II trial, reducing liver fat by 14% in the highest dose group compared to 0.3% in placebo, according to MRI scans. But although NASH is an obesity-related condition and results from fatty buildup in the liver, the real immediate question for any therapy is whether it can resolve the fibrosis and inflammation that results from that buildup. Those data require biopsying the patients, a longer and more invasive process that was further complicated by a pandemic.