John Damonti, Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation president (BMS)

Bris­tol My­ers Squibb Foun­da­tion launch­es pro­gram to tack­le di­ver­si­ty prob­lem in clin­i­cal tri­als

Over the last sev­er­al months, the pan­dem­ic has am­pli­fied calls for more di­verse clin­i­cal tri­als.

While mi­nor­i­ty pop­u­la­tions are con­tract­ing Covid-19 at high­er rates than white Amer­i­cans, they are no­tably un­der­rep­re­sent­ed in clin­i­cal tri­als. Black Amer­i­cans make up 13% of the US pop­u­la­tion, but on­ly 7% of par­tic­i­pants in clin­i­cal tri­als, ac­cord­ing to the FDA. And they’re be­ing in­fect­ed with Covid-19 at a 2.6 times high­er rate than white Amer­i­cans.

“The im­por­tance of di­ver­si­ty in the clin­i­cal tri­als for the vac­cines is just an­oth­er spot­light on an is­sue that’s been go­ing on for decades,” John Da­mon­ti, pres­i­dent of the Bris­tol My­ers Squibb Foun­da­tion, told End­points News. 

On Tues­day, the foun­da­tion launched a new pro­gram with the non­prof­it or­ga­ni­za­tion Na­tion­al Med­ical Fel­low­ships and backed it with $100 mil­lion to help clin­i­cal tri­als reach un­der­served pop­u­la­tions. The pro­gram con­sists of three parts: a train­ing com­po­nent for 250 new clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors, fel­low­ships for 250 mi­nor­i­ty med­ical stu­dents, and an in­fra­struc­ture fund to help in­ves­ti­ga­tors build new clin­i­cal tri­al sites.

The new sites, he said, would ide­al­ly go “in clin­i­cal tri­al deserts where … the dis­ease bur­den is high but clin­i­cal tri­als don’t ex­ist in those sites, or even look to build­ing out in ur­ban cen­ters through safe­ty net hos­pi­tals and oth­ers.”

Prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tors will men­tor the new clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors who will men­tor the med­ical stu­dents, who will work in fed­er­al­ly qual­i­fied health cen­ters, safe­ty net hos­pi­tals and oth­er med­ical cen­ters in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“At the end of the day, even if you have 250 di­verse clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors, if they’re not ac­tive­ly work­ing in the com­mu­ni­ties to build those re­la­tion­ships and build that trust, the pro­gram will not be as suc­cess­ful as it po­ten­tial­ly could be,” Da­mon­ti said.

The mon­ey comes from a $300 mil­lion com­mit­ment that Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and its foun­da­tion made back in Au­gust for health eq­ui­ty, di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion ef­forts. Na­tion­al Med­ical Fel­low­ships will help with im­ple­men­ta­tion, such as man­ag­ing com­po­nents of the ap­pli­ca­tion process and an in­de­pen­dent ad­vi­so­ry board.

Ap­pli­ca­tions will open in Jan­u­ary for clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and Da­mon­ti ex­pects the first class to be­gin some­time in Sep­tem­ber.

“While the pa­tient re­sponse to med­ical ther­a­pies may dif­fer across racial and eth­nic sub­groups, clin­i­cal tri­als of­ten fail to rep­re­sent the de­mo­graph­ic di­ver­si­ty of the pop­u­la­tions that these prod­ucts aim to serve,” said Robert Winn, di­rec­tor of the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­si­ty Massey Can­cer Cen­ter and chair of the na­tion­al ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee of the Bris­tol My­ers Squibb Foun­da­tion’s new pro­gram.

Black Amer­i­cans made up 20% of par­tic­i­pants in the NI­AID-fund­ed ACTT-1 tri­al of remde­sivir, ac­cord­ing to a New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine piece. And Lat­inx and Na­tive Amer­i­cans, who are at a 2.8 times high­er risk of in­fec­tion than white Amer­i­cans, made up 23% and 0.7% of the ACTT-1 par­tic­i­pants, re­spec­tive­ly.

The is­sue isn’t unique to the pan­dem­ic. Out of 230 tri­als lead­ing to FDA on­col­o­gy OKs in the last decade or so, Black and Lat­inx par­tic­i­pants were “un­der­rep­re­sent­ed… rel­a­tive to their pro­por­tion among the US can­cer pop­u­la­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a piece pub­lished in JA­MA last year.

“The re­al out­come, and the im­pact of this pro­gram is go­ing to be mea­sured by the role that these in­di­vid­u­als can play in terms of at­tract­ing di­verse pa­tient pop­u­la­tions in­to clin­i­cal tri­als. That’s what this pro­gram has been cre­at­ed to do,” Da­mon­ti said. “We just want to make sure that the end of the day it’s the pa­tient that gets in­to the tri­al.”

A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle stat­ed that the Bris­tol My­ers Squibb Foun­da­tion made a $300 mil­lion com­mit­ment in Au­gust for health eq­ui­ty ef­forts. The piece has been up­dat­ed to clar­i­fy that the biotech al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed in the com­mit­ment.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Rahul Singhvi, Resilience CEO

A Bob Nelsen start­up turns to Har­vard to help sharp­en its tech, in­spir­ing first spin­out

One of Bob Nelsen’s latest projects is headed to Harvard.

Resilience, a company started with the goal of establishing itself as a “one-stop-shop” for companies looking to scale manufacturing, including for hard-to-develop cell and gene therapies, is less than a year old. Friday, it announced a five-year R&D deal with Harvard University that includes $30 million to develop biologics, including vaccines, nucleic acids and cell and gene therapies.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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