Bris­tol-My­ers Squib­b's Op­di­vo/Yer­voy com­bo scores col­orec­tal can­cer OK; For­mer Ake­bia, Mer­ri­mack staffers found guilty

→ Bol­stered by pri­or­i­ty re­view and a break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Op­di­vo/Yer­voy has been ap­proved for a sub­set of col­orec­tal can­cer pa­tients who’ve run out of op­tions. The FDA gave the green light — cov­er­ing mi­crosatel­lite in­sta­bil­i­ty high (MSI-H) or mis­match re­pair de­fi­cient (dMMR) metasta­t­ic col­orec­tal can­cer (mCRC) that has pro­gressed fol­low­ing treat­ment with a flu­o­ropy­rim­i­dine, ox­ali­platin and irinote­can com­bo — based on an on­go­ing Phase II tri­al. Eighty two out of 119 pa­tients re­ceived treat­ment pri­or to the Check­mate-142 study; 46% in that sub-pop­u­la­tion, and 49% over­all, re­spond­ed to the I/O com­bo. Se­ri­ous ad­verse re­ac­tions oc­curred in 47% of all pa­tients — some­what re­flect­ed in the list of safe­ty warn­ings that come with the ap­proval. The rec­om­mend­ed dos­ing sched­ule in­volves an IV in­fu­sion every three weeks for four dos­es, fol­lowed by Op­di­vo main­te­nance ther­a­py.

→ More than a year af­ter two friends charged with in­sid­er trad­ing by swap­ping non­pub­lic in­fo on their re­spec­tive biotech com­pa­nies, the ver­dict is in: guilty — for con­spir­a­cy and se­cu­ri­ties fraud. Schultz Chan, who worked for Ake­bia Ther­a­peu­tics $AK­BA at the time, and Songjiang Wang, a for­mer Mer­ri­mack Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $MACK staffer, re­ceived the ver­dict from a ju­ry in Boston fol­low­ing a two-week tri­al.

Ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint, the duo were work­ing a two-way deal where Chan — then Ake­bia’s di­rec­tor of bio­sta­tis­tics — fed in­sid­er in­fo on Ake­bia’s tri­al da­ta to Wang, the di­rec­tor of sta­tis­ti­cal pro­gram­ming at Mer­ri­mack, who rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed with the scoop on Mer­ri­mack drugs. One of the deals al­leged­ly yield­ed a $288,000 prof­it.

Both men, who have de­nied wrong­do­ing in the past and de­clined to com­ment af­ter the tri­al, are sched­uled to be sen­tenced in ear­ly Oc­to­ber.

Paula Soteropou­los, Akcea CEO

Akcea $AK­CA has scored its first drug ap­proval since spin­ning out of Io­n­is $IONS, as Eu­ro­pean reg­u­la­tors come through with an ap­proval for in­ot­ersen fol­low­ing a thumbs up from the EMA com­mit­tee. To be mar­ket­ed as Tegse­di, the drug treats hered­i­tary TTR amy­loi­do­sis by block­ing pro­duc­tion of the transthyretin (TTR) pro­tein. The green light gives Io­n­is and the ma­jor­i­ty-owned Akcea an im­por­tant leg up against ri­val Al­ny­lam, whose patisir­an has a US PDU­FA date that’s two months ahead of in­ot­ersen’s in Oc­to­ber. “With the EC’s de­ci­sion, TEGSE­DI is now the world’s first and on­ly RNA-tar­get­ed ther­a­peu­tic ap­proved for pa­tients with hAT­TR amy­loi­do­sis,” said Akcea CEO Paula Soteropou­los. “We are ready to launch Tegse­di along with our pa­tient and physi­cian sup­port ser­vices across Eu­rope.”

→ The res­pi­ra­to­ry ex­perts at As­traZeneca are wad­ing in­to gene ther­a­py for a nov­el ap­proach to treat­ing chron­ic lung dis­ease with a new col­lab­o­ra­tion. Emeryville, CA-based 4D Mol­e­c­u­lar Ther­a­peu­tics will con­tribute its dis­cov­ery plat­form to help iden­ti­fy and en­gi­neer the AAV vec­tor that will be best suit­ed to de­liv­er the drug the part­ners will de­vel­op to­geth­er. Med­Im­mune, the bi­o­log­ics arm of the UK phar­ma gi­ant, has com­mit­ted to play­ing a role in the whole process — from ear­ly stage de­vel­op­ment to com­mer­cial­iza­tion (which 4DMT will pre­sum­ably be in­volved in). Fi­nan­cial de­tails were not dis­closed.

We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology

ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development

CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: Pay­back? An­a­lysts say Sarep­ta was blind­sided by an FDA re­jec­tion dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry re­venge

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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FDA de­ci­sion on Ver­tex's CF triple will come just ahead of planned CEO shake­up

Vertex has clinched a priority review for the all-important cystic fibrosis triple that will blaze the trail for treating a large group of patients unhelped by its current drugs.

FDA regulators have set a PDUFA date of March 19, 2020, just a year after the Boston biotech posted positive Phase III results showing that people with two F508del mutations experienced statistically significant improvements in lung function after a 4-week regimen of VX-445, tezacaftor and ivacaftor. After reviewing 24-week data among patients with one F508del mutation and one minimal function mutation — and thoroughly comparing the VX-445 triple with another combo featuring VX-659 on scores like safety, drug-drug interactions, and photosensitivity — Vertex ultimately went with VX-445.

An MIT spin­out kills one of its ‘liv­ing ther­a­peu­tics’ af­ter flunk­ing an ear­ly-stage study — shares rout­ed

Just a few weeks after bagging $80 million in a deal to collaborate with Gingko Bioworks on its special blend of engineered bacteria used for “living therapeutics,” little Synlogic in Boston $SYBX is tossing one of its two clinical programs after watching an early-stage study go down in defeat.

Their Phase Ib/IIa study for SYNB1020 to counter the accumulation of ammonia in the body, a condition called hyperammonemia or urea cycle disorder, floundered at the interim readout, forcing the biotech to kill it and reserve its cash for pipeline therapies with greater potential.

Elan­co to buy Bay­er's an­i­mal health busi­ness for $7.6B, as deal­mak­ing gath­ers steam in the sec­tor

Last week, Elanco explicitly dodged answering questions about its rumored interest in Bayer’s animal health business in its post-earnings call. On Tuesday, the Eli Lilly spinoff disclosed it was purchasing the German drug maker’s veterinary unit in a cash-and-stock deal worth $7.6 billion. 

Elanco $ELAN has been busy on the deal-making front. In April, it laid out plans to swallow its partner, Kansas-based pet therapeutics company Aratana $PETX. A July report by Reuters suggested a potential Bayer deal was being explored, and Bloomberg last week said the deal was imminent, citing sources. 

As­traZeneca's di­a­betes drug Farx­i­ga helps pa­tients with heart dis­ease and with­out di­a­betes in land­mark tri­al

Months ago, data on J&J’s $JNJ Invokana indicated the diabetes drug conferred cardiovascular (CV) benefit in patients who do and do not have preexisting CV disease. On Tuesday, AstraZeneca’s $AZN rival treatment, Farxiga, was shown to cut the risk of CV death or the worsening of heart failure in patients with heart disease, in a landmark trial.

The treatments, in addition to Jardiance from Eli Lilly $LLY, belong to a class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which work by curbing the absorption of glucose via the kidneys so that surplus glucose is excreted through urination.

Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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