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.

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In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Yuling Li, Innoforce CEO

In­no­force opens new man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Chi­na

Innoforce is off to the races at its new site in the city of Hangzhou, China.

The Chinese CDMO announced last week that it has started manufacturing at the new facility, which was built to offer process development and manufacturing operations for RNA, plasmid DNA, viral vectors and other cell therapeutics. It will also serve as Innoforce’s corporate HQ.

The company said it’s investing more than $200 million in the 550,000-square-foot manufacturing base for advanced therapies. The GMP manufacturing facility features space for producing plasmids with three 30-liter bioreactors. For viral vector manufacturing, Innoforce also has 200- and 500-liter bioreactors at its disposal, along with eight suites to make cell therapies. The site also includes several labs and warehouse spaces.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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FDA grants or­phan drug des­ig­na­tion to Al­ger­non's ifen­prodil, while ex­clu­siv­i­ty re­mains un­clear

As the FDA remains silent on orphan drug exclusivity in the wake of a controversial court case, the agency continues to hand out new designations. The latest: Algernon Pharmaceuticals’ experimental lung disease drug ifenprodil.

The Vancouver-based company announced on Monday that ifenprodil received orphan designation in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung condition that results in scarring of the lungs.  Most IPF patients suffer with a dry cough, and breathing can become difficult.

‘Catchy’ de­sign tops big ad buys on­line for grab­bing on­col­o­gists’ at­ten­tion — sur­vey

The cancer drug ads that get oncologists’ attention online are informative and use clear, eye-catching designs. That’s ZoomRx’s assessment in its most recent tracking survey, and while not necessarily surprising, the details in the research do break a few common misconceptions.

One of those is frequency, also known as the number of impressions an ad gets. No matter how many times oncologists saw a particular cancer drug ad, effectiveness prevailed in the survey across five drug brands. ZoomRx measured effectiveness as a combination of most attention-getting, relevant information and improved perception as reported by the doctors.

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Tim Walbert, Horizon Therapeutics CEO (via YouTube)

And then there were two: Janssen bows out of Hori­zon takeover ne­go­ti­a­tions

Horizon Therapeutics announced last week that it was in talks with three pharmaceutical giants that could take over the company. You can now remove one of them from the equation.

J&J’s Janssen, after Horizon reported its initial involvement in early discussions to acquire the rare disease biotech, issued a statement Saturday that said Janssen “does not intend to make an offer for Horizon,” and that Janssen is bound by restrictions set in Rule 2.8 of the Irish Takeover Rules. These rules are in place for any company interested in taking over Irish companies, with Horizon Therapeutics currently based in Dublin.

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Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Nkarta CEO Paul Hastings at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Nkar­ta un­der­scores safe­ty of CAR-NK, boasts ear­ly re­spons­es

The first generation of personalized CAR-T therapies made big waves in the treatment of lymphoma for their stunning efficacy. Nkarta is hoping its off-the-shelf natural killer cell approach will stand out on safety — while keeping some of those impressive numbers on responses.

In a new update from its Phase I dose escalation study, the South San Francisco-based biotech reported that seven out of 10 patients treated with the highest doses of its NK cell therapy, NKX019, achieved a complete response, translating to a complete response rate of 70%.