Bris­tol-My­ers star Op­di­vo fails sur­vival test in a matchup with Nex­avar aimed at shak­ing up the big HCC mar­ket

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has suf­fered an­oth­er painful set­back in its years-long quest to ex­pand the reach of Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant this morn­ing not­ed that their Check­mate-459 study com­par­ing Op­di­vo with Bay­er’s Nex­avar in front­line cas­es of he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma — the most com­mon form of liv­er can­cer — failed to hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on over­all sur­vival.

This was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in Bris­tol-My­ers’ tal­ly of PD-1 cat­a­lysts this year. Nex­avar (so­rafenib) has been the stan­dard of care in front­line HCC for the past decade, though Op­di­vo has been mak­ing head­way in sec­ond-line HCC cas­es, where it’s go­ing toe-to-toe with Bay­er’s Sti­var­ga (re­go­rafenib) af­ter re­cent ap­provals shook up the mar­ket.

The OS rate on Op­di­vo fell well short of sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance, with a p val­ue of 0.0752. We’ll have to wait for an up­com­ing sci­ence con­fer­ence to get the full pic­ture.

Bris­tol-My­ers shares $BMY were down 4.5% ahead of the open­ing bell Mon­day as in­vestors re­act­ed to the news that the com­pa­ny is sell­ing Ote­zla to sat­is­fy reg­u­la­tors ahead of its big Cel­gene buy­out.

Re­searchers looked for a sil­ver lin­ing in the lat­est cut of the da­ta onOp­di­vo, say­ing “the re­sults showed a clear trend to­wards im­prove­ment in OS for pa­tients treat­ed with Op­di­vo com­pared to so­rafenib (Nex­avar), a cur­rent stan­dard of care.”

Bruno San­gro Clíni­ca Uni­ver­si­dad de Navar­ra

“We are en­cour­aged by the promis­ing ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty trends seen with Op­di­vo in Check­Mate-459, es­pe­cial­ly as HCC is a dev­as­tat­ing and dif­fi­cult-to-treat can­cer, for which there have been no sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances over so­rafenib, a stan­dard treat­ment, in more than a decade,” said Bruno San­gro, head of the liv­er unit, Clíni­ca Uni­ver­si­dad de Navar­ra, Pam­plona, Spain.

But an­a­lysts saw the down­side clear­ly. Vamil Di­van from Cred­it­Su­isse not­ed: “While the tri­al showed a trend to­wards an over­all sur­vival ben­e­fit, the lack of sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance opens the door for com­peti­tors such as Mer­ck, Roche and As­tra to be­come the dom­i­nant play­er(s) in this in­di­ca­tion with the var­i­ous com­bi­na­tion tri­als they are cur­rent­ly run­ning.”

Michael Schmidt at SVB Leerink re­cent­ly not­ed:

In the US, Op­di­vo is gain­ing rapid mar­ket share in 2nd line HCC dri­ven by an ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing ef­fort by BMY and mas­sive free sam­pling with some off-la­bel use not­ed in front-line pa­tients which is sup­port­ed by strong CM-040 re­sults. In Eu­rope, re­go­rafenib is ex­pect­ed to re­main the pre­ferred 2nd line agent in the near term, giv­en dif­fer­ences in treat­ment pat­tern and pref­er­ences.

Bris­tol-My­ers is by no means fin­ished here, with more re­sults ex­pect­ed on their com­bo with the CT­LA-4 Yer­voy. That match-up, though, has al­ready failed in small cell lung can­cer while in­ves­ti­ga­tors have had to deal with a strong push­back from the FDA in their quest to use high tu­mor mu­ta­tion­al bur­den de­f­i­n­i­tions to de­fine a new ap­proach to iden­ti­fy­ing lung can­cer pa­tients most like­ly to re­spond to Op­di­vo.

Mer­ck, mean­while, has fa­mous­ly pressed ahead in its suc­cess­ful dri­ve to gain the lead po­si­tion in the race to com­mand the PD-1 field. Both Keytru­da and Op­di­vo, though, are ex­pect­ed to re­main the two dom­i­nant drugs in their field for some time.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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