Skep­tics pounce af­ter Bris­tol-My­ers scores an ear­ly hit on Op­di­vo-Yer­voy com­bo for lung can­cer

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s close­ly watched study dubbed Check­mate-227 hit ear­ly, with re­searchers tout­ing a suc­cess for their com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy in treat­ing front­line non-small cell lung can­cer cas­es.

Gio­van­ni Caforio

In a state­ment the com­pa­ny $BMY says that re­searchers tracked a “high­ly” sig­nif­i­cant pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate for pa­tients with a high tu­mor mu­ta­tion bur­den (TMB), re­gard­less of PD-L1 ex­pres­sion. Their com­bi­na­tion was com­pared with chemo in the study, which is still track­ing for over­all sur­vival re­sults.

That’s a sig­nif­i­cant group, an­a­lysts note, point­ing to Bris­tol-My­ers’ pro­jec­tion that the TMB crowd ac­counts for 45% of all front­line pa­tients. Bris­tol-My­ers re­designed the study to go af­ter the bio­mark­er af­ter stum­bling on a piv­otal tri­al that in­volved a pa­tient pop­u­la­tion that was not so nar­row­ly de­fined. All the de­vel­op­ers are shift­ing to a bio­mark­er fo­cus as they duke it out for spe­cif­ic slices of a mega block­buster-sized mar­ket.

Skep­tics, though, be­gan to re­tal­i­ate ear­ly, and af­ter a sharp jump ear­ly in the day, shares are trad­ing down 3% as crit­ics won­der if Bris­tol-My­ers can fol­low through with con­vinc­ing da­ta. We asked lung can­cer ex­pert Jack West for his take, which you can see here, ques­tion­ing the way the bio­mark­er was han­dled and not­ing that prac­ti­tion­ers will need to see more be­fore chang­ing the way they treat pa­tients.

Hus­tling along in search of pos­i­tive da­ta, Bris­tol-My­ers es­sen­tial­ly in­te­grat­ed two par­al­lel stud­ies in­volv­ing more than 1,700 pa­tients. And R&D chief Tom Lynch told an­a­lysts this morn­ing that there’s more work to be done on TMB-de­fined stud­ies, with up­com­ing da­ta read­outs on gas­tric, lung and head and neck can­cers.

Some an­a­lysts had been won­der­ing if Bris­tol-My­ers might just call a suc­cess to­day, with its Q4 re­port com­ing up. Past mishaps for  Op­di­vo in the all-im­por­tant NSCLC group cost it big time as Mer­ck surged ahead with a com­bi­na­tion of Keytru­da and chemo.

Just a few days ago Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink not­ed:

While suc­cess at the OS in­ter­im rep­re­sents a very high bar, this would be a huge­ly pos­i­tive sur­prise. We be­lieve a win here would sug­gest that Op­di­vo + Yer­voy could have a crit­i­cal­ly im­por­tant place in the treat­ment of NSCLC.

Bris­tol-My­ers CEO Gio­van­ni Caforio called it a “break­through in can­cer re­search and a mean­ing­ful step for­ward in de­ter­min­ing which first-line lung can­cer pa­tients may ben­e­fit most from the com­bi­na­tion of Op­di­vo and Yer­voy.”

“TMB has emerged as an im­por­tant bio­mark­er for the ac­tiv­i­ty of im­munother­a­py. For the first time, this Phase 3 study shows su­pe­ri­or PFS with first-line com­bi­na­tion im­munother­a­py in a pre­de­fined pop­u­la­tion of NSCLC pa­tients with high TMB,” said Matthew Hell­mann, study in­ves­ti­ga­tor and med­ical on­col­o­gist at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter. “Check­Mate-227 showed that TMB is an im­por­tant, in­de­pen­dent pre­dic­tive bio­mark­er that can iden­ti­fy a pop­u­la­tion of first-line NSCLC pa­tients who may ben­e­fit from the nivolum­ab plus ip­il­i­mum­ab com­bi­na­tion.”

Not every­one was im­pressed by the top-line re­sults, though.

The win here is al­so a plus for Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine $FMI, which pro­vid­ed the test used to pick pa­tients with a high TMB.

As­traZeneca — which ear­li­er record­ed a ma­jor fail for its com­bi­na­tion of its check­point drug Imfinzi and treme­li­mum­ab, an­oth­er PD-1/L1 check­point com­bined with an ex­per­i­men­tal CT­LA-4 drug — failed the first step on PFS with their com­bo. The OS da­ta is due out lat­er in the year.

The im­pli­ca­tions for Bris­tol-My­ers are con­sid­er­able. An ear­ly leader in the field, the R&D team on Op­di­vo have been work­ing fever­ish­ly to get their PD-1 back on track fol­low­ing a key miss in lung can­cer. But a suc­cess here on PD-1/CT­LA-4 will like­ly trig­ger fresh chat­ter of a pos­si­ble takeover bid by Pfiz­er, which has nev­er lost its ap­petite for a mega-merg­er. On the oth­er hand, such a takeover would al­so threat­en one of the most in­no­v­a­tive of the big bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies.

Op­di­vo earned close to $5 bil­lion last year, a 31% in­crease over 2016, mak­ing this their biggest sell­ing fran­chise drug. Eliquis is now their num­ber two ther­a­py, high­light­ing Op­di­vo’s over­sized role in the com­pa­ny’s fu­ture.

 

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.