Bris­tol-My­ers’ tar­nished check­point star Op­di­vo beats out Yer­voy in sur­prise PhI­II

Bris­tol-My­ers got a much-need­ed boost with the ear­li­er-than-ex­pect­ed news that Op­di­vo beat out Yer­voy in a Phase III study fo­cused on a par­tic­u­lar niche for ad­ju­vant melanoma ther­a­py. And an an­a­lyst who’s been fol­low­ing the da­ta says it could be worth a bil­lion dol­lars in added an­nu­al sales.

The big biotech says an in­ter­im analy­sis of Check­mate-238 pro­vid­ed re­searchers with proof that the PD-1 drug out­per­formed Yer­voy, Bris­tol-My­ers’ CT­LA-4 drug, among ad­vanced Stage II­Ib or IV pa­tients, cut­ting the re­cur­rence rate for those who have un­der­gone surgery. There are no bot­tom line num­bers in the state­ment, but Bris­tol-My­ers says they’ll be able to re­lease da­ta at an up­com­ing con­fer­ence to show that Op­di­vo pro­vid­ed a sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er risk of dis­ease re­cur­rence.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez notes that the re­sults are like­ly to can­ni­bal­ize Bris­tol’s Yer­voy rev­enue, but will like­ly de­liv­er a $1 bil­lion boost to Op­di­vo as physi­cians steer away from the high­er dos­es of high­ly tox­ic Yer­voy. He not­ed:

This comes as a sur­prise, as top-line da­ta were not ex­pect­ed un­til the fi­nal read­out in 2H:18. While there were no de­tails in the press re­lease re­gard­ing the mag­ni­tude of ben­e­fit for Op­di­vo, we would ex­pect it to be­come the stan­dard of care in high-risk pa­tients fol­low­ing sur­gi­cal re­sec­tion giv­en its su­pe­ri­or safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty pro­file rel­a­tive to Yer­voy. We es­ti­mate the ad­ju­vant melanoma mar­ket will ex­pand PD1 sales by ap­prox­i­mate­ly $3B glob­al­ly. Al­though this like­ly will can­ni­bal­ize sales of Yer­voy in the set­ting (we es­ti­mate cur­rent ad­ju­vant Yer­voy sales at $300-400M), the ex­pan­sion of the mar­ket should add ap­prox­i­mate­ly $1B to BMY’s net im­muno-on­col­o­gy (IO) sales de­spite as­sumed com­pe­ti­tion from MRK’s (MP) Keytru­da (pem­brolizum­ab; an­ti-PD-1).

Vic­ki Good­man

Op­di­vo’s rocky road at Bris­tol has led to end­less spec­u­la­tion that the com­pa­ny could find it­self on the auc­tion block be­fore it gets a chance to re­or­ga­nize in the clin­ic and come back in its head-to-head show­down with Mer­ck’s Keytru­da. But it is al­so rack­ing up bil­lions in an­nu­al sales of Op­di­vo, with a slate of new tri­als un­der­way.

“These topline re­sults sup­port the po­ten­tial promise of Op­di­vo as a treat­ment op­tion for pa­tients with high-risk sur­gi­cal­ly re­sect­ed melanoma. There re­mains an un­met need for ad­di­tion­al op­tions as the ma­jor­i­ty of stage III and re­sect­ed stage IV high-risk melanoma pa­tients ex­pe­ri­ence dis­ease re­cur­rence af­ter surgery,” said Vic­ki Good­man, de­vel­op­ment lead, melanoma and gen­i­touri­nary can­cers, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. “We are com­mit­ted to re­search­ing ther­a­pies that may bet­ter meet the needs of this pa­tient pop­u­la­tion and look for­ward to shar­ing these da­ta with health au­thor­i­ties soon.”

Jef­frey We­ber

Physi­cians in the field, in­clud­ing the high pro­file Jef­frey We­ber at NYU Lan­gone, have been wait­ing to see how this one will shake out. And they’re get­ting the read­out a year ahead of sched­ule. In a pan­el chat with ex­perts in the field in the spring of 2016, he not­ed:

On the ba­sis of my own ex­pe­ri­ence with both drugs in pi­lot ad­ju­vant tri­als, I have a sus­pi­cion that nivolum­ab is go­ing to look bet­ter than ip­il­i­mum­ab. And the next fron­tier is what we’ve al­ready pi­lot­ed when I was at Mof­fitt and we’ll con­tin­ue at NYU, which is com­bi­na­tion ad­ju­vant ther­a­py. But be­cause of the tox­i­c­i­ty, we flipped the dos­es giv­ing one of ip­il­i­mum­ab and three of nivolum­ab, which is very well-tol­er­at­ed with a pret­ty good track record, ad­mit­ted­ly, in a small study. So, I think that we’ve gone from in­ter­fer­on, we’ll go to ip­il­i­mum­ab, we’ll go to nivolum­ab, and even­tu­al­ly end up at ip­il­i­mum­ab plus nivolum­ab, over the next five years, which brings us to where we’re go­ing in metasta­t­ic treat­ment. I think we’re go­ing to see triple com­bi­na­tions. On the one hand, it’s sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, ex­treme­ly com­plex with para­dox­i­cal­ly a bar that’s now so high, it’s go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult to get com­bi­na­tions ap­proved. You’re go­ing to need to see ma­jor in­cre­men­tal ad­van­tages, which I think you prob­a­bly will see with some of the drugs my col­leagues have men­tioned. But they’re al­so go­ing to be very ex­pen­sive, so phar­ma­coeco­nom­ics is al­so go­ing to play a huge role in what we do. Right now, I would es­ti­mate that the cost of ip­il­i­mum­ab plus nivolum­ab ther­a­py for a year is about $250,000. So, I would ask where does this all end?

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Gilead re­leas­es an­oth­er round of murky remde­sivir re­sults

A month after the NIH declared the first trial on remdesivir in Covid-19 a success, Gilead is out with new results on their antiviral. But although the study met one of its primary endpoints, the data are likely to only add to a growing debate over how effective the drug actually is.

In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Bris­tol My­ers Squib­b's just-launched MS drug Zeposia makes the cut in key ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis tri­al

In March, Zeposia became the third oral S1P modulator to secure US approval for multiple sclerosis. Now, the drug has succeeded in a key ulcerative colitis study.

The immunomodulator, akin to others in its class, controls lymphocyte trafficking by limiting the white blood cells to the lymphatic system, in the lymph nodes, and thwarting their ability to jam up lymph nodes — precluding their ability to penetrate the bloodstream and the central nervous system.

Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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Hill­house re­casts spot­light on Chi­na's biotech scene with $160M round for Shang­hai-based an­ti­body mak­er

Almost two years after first buying into Genor Biopharma’s pipeline of cancer and autoimmune therapies, Hillhouse Capital has led a $160 million cash injection to push the late-stage assets over the finish line while continuing to fund both internal R&D and dealmaking.

The Series B has landed right around the time Genor would have listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to plans reported by Bloomberg late last year. Insiders had said that the company was looking to raise about $200 million.

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Novus Ther­a­peu­tics plunges deep in­to pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry af­ter failed ear tri­al

After a more than 15-year run, a California-based biotech is exploring options, including a sale, after its lead experimental therapy failed an exploratory mid-stage study in patients with middle ear infections characterized by a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.

The company, initially called Tokai Pharmaceuticals but which subsequently changed its name to Novus Therapeutics in 2017, saw its shares more than halve on Monday after the drug — OP0201— did not pass muster as an adjunct therapy to oral antibiotics in infants and children aged 6 to 24 months with acute otitis media (OM).