Can­cer drug­mak­er Agios of­fers promis­ing da­ta from two stud­ies test­ing blood dis­or­der drug

With two can­cer drugs on the mar­ket, the spot­light is on Agios’ rare meta­bol­ic dis­ease fran­chise led by mi­tapi­vat, its ex­per­i­men­tal drug un­der de­vel­op­ment for a range of con­di­tions in­clud­ing pyru­vate ki­nase de­fi­cien­cy, tha­lassemia, and sick­le cell dis­ease.

At the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion An­nu­al Con­gress (EHA), the com­pa­ny is­sued two up­dates on the ef­fect of mi­tapi­vat — a drug de­signed to tar­get pyru­vate ki­nase-R (PKR), an en­zyme in­volved in the con­ver­sion of sug­ar, or glu­cose, in­to en­er­gy that is crit­i­cal for the sur­vival of red blood cells.

The first up­date came from an on­go­ing mid-stage study test­ing the drug in two forms of tha­lassemia, an in­her­it­ed blood dis­or­der. In the study, 12 out of 13 pa­tients saw sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in he­mo­glo­bin con­cen­tra­tion, set­ting the stage for a piv­otal tri­al next year.

The tri­al, which has so far en­rolled 20 pa­tients, is eval­u­at­ing the ef­fect of the drug in more mod­er­ate forms of the dis­ease, in pa­tients that are not de­pen­dent on blood trans­fu­sions. Pa­tients start­ed on a low­er 50 gm dose and then were grad­u­al­ly giv­en the high­er 100 mg dose.

Tha­lassemia, caused by mu­ta­tions al­pha or be­ta glo­bin genes, is char­ac­ter­ized by ei­ther no or too lit­tle he­mo­glo­bin — the pro­tein that trans­ports oxy­gen in red blood cells. Pa­tients can ex­pe­ri­ence a range of symp­toms such as ane­mia, weak­ness, frag­ile bones and di­min­ished fer­til­i­ty.

The main goal of  ≥ 1.0 g/dL in­crease in Hb con­cen­tra­tion was met by about 92% of the 13 pa­tients ready for eval­u­a­tion fol­low­ing 12 weeks of treat­ment — the mean change from base­line for the evalu­able pa­tients was 1.34 g/dL over weeks 4-12. Oth­er mark­ers of red blood cell func­tion and per­for­mance al­so fa­vored the drug.

Ac­celeron’s Re­blozyl, which is en­gi­neered to work by tar­get­ing a pro­tein nec­es­sary to en­hance the pro­duc­tion and mat­u­ra­tion of red blood cells, was ap­proved last year for more se­vere be­ta-tha­lassemia pa­tients who are trans­fu­sion-de­pen­dent. Mean­while, blue­bird bio, has an eye-pop­ping­ly ex­pen­sive gene ther­a­py to com­bat the dis­ease ap­proved in Eu­rope, and is aim­ing for a US nod.

Jack­ie Fouse

Akin to blue­bird, whose gene ther­a­py is al­so primed for use in sick­le cell dis­ease, Jack­ie Fouse-led Agios is al­so test­ing mi­tapi­vat in the blood dis­or­der that is char­ac­ter­ized by atyp­i­cal he­mo­glo­bin mol­e­cules, which can dis­tort red blood cells in­to a sick­le, or cres­cent, shape.

Ear­ly da­ta from an on­go­ing phase I SCD tri­al test­ing mul­ti­ple mi­tapi­vat dos­es (5 mg, 20 mg, 50 mg) showed the com­pa­ny had en­rolled 9 pa­tients till date — each got the drug for two weeks, be­fore be­ing ta­pered off. One pa­tient dis­con­tin­ued the tri­al due to a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion, but the re­main­ing 8 were eval­u­at­ed.

Five out of 8 pa­tients achieved the main goal of en­hanc­ing he­mo­glo­bin lev­els by  ≥1.0 g/dL from base­line. Da­ta showed the use of the drug was as­so­ci­at­ed with de­creas­es in he­molyt­ic mark­ers.

Un­til re­cent­ly, the treat­ment land­scape for the dis­ease was bar­ren, but the last few years have seen a tri­fec­ta of ap­provals. Most re­cent­ly, last No­vem­ber saw two ap­provals: No­var­tis’ ther­a­py, Adakveo, de­signed to pre­vent pe­ri­od­ic episodes of sear­ing pain called va­so-oc­clu­sive crises (VOCs) that de­prive the body of oxy­gen-rich blood and Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics’ Oxbry­ta, which works by in­creas­ing he­mo­glo­bin’s affin­i­ty for oxy­gen. Mi­tapi­vat is ex­pect­ed to work in SCD by de­creas­ing a salt in red blood cells that plays a role in lib­er­at­ing oxy­gen from he­mo­glo­bin in pe­riph­er­al cir­cu­la­tion and en­hanc­ing lev­els of a cen­tral metabo­lite called adeno­sine triphos­phate (ATP).

Agios al­so has two piv­otal stud­ies test­ing mi­tapi­vat in pyru­vate ki­nase de­fi­cien­cy, a rare in­her­it­ed dis­ease that is char­ac­ter­ized by the ac­cel­er­at­ed de­struc­tion of red blood cells. Da­ta from these tri­als are ex­pect­ed lat­er this year or ear­ly 2021.

Sep­a­rate­ly on Fri­day, Agios said it was re­lin­quish­ing its roy­al­ty rights on glob­al net sales of Bris­tol My­ers Squibb’s Id­hi­fa, as as its rights to re­ceive up to $55 mil­lion in out­stand­ing reg­u­la­to­ry mile­stone pay­ments from Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, to Roy­al­ty Phar­ma for $255 mil­lion.

The drug, al­lied with Cel­gene (now a Bris­tol My­ers com­pa­ny), was ap­proved in 2017 for use in acute myeloid leukemia.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

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With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Goldfinch Bio CEO Tony Johnson (L) and Karuna Therapeutics CEO Bill Meury

Karuna li­cens­es Goldfinch as­sets to com­pete with Boehringer In­gel­heim in neu­ro­science

Karuna Therapeutics is looking to compete with Boehringer Ingelheim on depression and anxiety with a new license to Goldfinch Bio’s assets, starting with $15 million to the shuttered biotech.

Karuna steps into an arena already being tested by Boehringer in multiple Phase II studies — the two are targeting transient receptor potential canonical 4 and 5, or TRPC4/5, which is thought to have a role in neuroscience indications. Goldfinch’s asset went through a Phase II in kidney diseases, but Karuna’s sights are set on mood and anxiety disorders for now.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Sanofi scraps PhI­II tri­al for Prin­cip­ia drug af­ter re­view­ing com­pe­ti­tion

Months after the FDA placed Phase III trials of Sanofi’s BTK inhibitor on hold, the company is winding down one of the studies.

Sanofi reported in its Q4 earnings that the URSA study “was discontinued after careful evaluation of the emerging competitive treatment landscape in” myasthenia gravis, a rare disease that causes muscle weakness.

The Phase III, placebo-controlled trial was testing tolebrutinib in patients with the moderate-to-severe form of the disease. It started in late 2021, according to records on clinicaltrials.gov, and was originally designed to recruit 154 participants who were receiving the standard of care.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

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How to use ex­ter­nal con­trols: FDA spells out think­ing in new draft guid­ance

The use of real-world evidence to inform the FDA’s decision-making continues apace, with the agency releasing new draft guidance yesterday on how sponsors can compare outcomes of trial participants receiving a test treatment with outcomes in a group of people external to the trial.

The practice of externally controlled trials is common, particularly in oncology or other difficult areas where it’s not ethical or feasible to use internal controls.

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