Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma's Fir­dapse bet on con­gen­i­tal myas­thenic syn­dromes turns sour

Months af­ter Fir­dapse mak­er Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals filed a law­suit against the FDA, the Flori­da com­pa­ny on Wednes­day said the drug had failed a piv­otal tri­al in pa­tients af­flict­ed with con­gen­i­tal myas­thenic syn­dromes (CMS), an um­brel­la term for rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­or­ders com­pris­ing a spec­trum of more than 50 ge­net­ic de­fects.

The drug, known chem­i­cal­ly as am­i­fam­pri­dine, was sanc­tioned for use in adult Lam­bert-Eaton myas­thenic syn­drome (LEMS) pa­tients in No­vem­ber 2018. The com­pa­ny is work­ing on ex­pand­ing the la­bel to in­clude pa­tients with CMS, MuSK-pos­i­tive myas­the­nia gravis (MuSK-MG) and spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy (SMA).

Cat­a­lyst es­ti­mates that there are be­tween 1,000 and 1,500 CMS pa­tients in the Unit­ed States — there are at least 600 fam­i­lies with af­fect­ed in­di­vid­u­als who have been rep­re­sent­ed in sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, ac­cord­ing to the NIH. Pa­tients with CMS car­ry mu­ta­tions in genes en­cod­ing pro­teins es­sen­tial for neu­ro­mus­cu­lar trans­mis­sion.

Cat­a­lyst’s late-stage study test­ed the drug against a place­bo in ge­net­i­cal­ly con­firmed CMS pa­tients. 20 pa­tients aged two and above were en­rolled in the tri­al, and 16 were ran­dom­ized. The drug failed to meet the main goal of sub­ject glob­al im­pres­sion (SGI) scale, a mea­sure used by clin­i­cians to rate the sever­i­ty of the ill­ness at the time of as­sess­ment, rel­a­tive to the clin­i­cian’s past ex­pe­ri­ence with pa­tients with the same di­ag­no­sis.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $CPRX slipped about 12.3% to $5 in pre­mar­ket trad­ing.

The sec­ondary end­point of mus­cle func­tion mea­sure (MFM) across all test­ed sub­types was al­so not met, al­though in­di­vid­ual pa­tient im­prove­ments were ob­served in some pa­tient sub-groups, the com­pa­ny said.

“Due to the small pa­tient preva­lence, the low num­ber of pa­tients test­ed, and het­ero­gene­ity of the dis­ease with a wide range of vari­a­tion in clin­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion across its more than 50 sub­types, it was chal­leng­ing to demon­strate a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit across mul­ti­ple sub­types,” Steven Miller, Cat­a­lyst’s COO and CSO said in a state­ment.

The com­pa­ny will meet the FDA be­fore the end of 2019 to fig­ure out the next steps for the CMA pro­gram. Mean­while, the Cat­a­lyst ex­pects to re­port da­ta from the MuSK-MG tri­al as well as re­sults from its SMA proof of con­cept study in the first half of next year.

Hav­ing launched in Jan­u­ary, Fir­dapse gen­er­at­ed about $41.3 mil­lion in sales in the first half of this year. Be­fore the drug (which car­ries an av­er­age an­nu­al list price of $375,000) was ap­proved by the FDA, hun­dreds of pa­tients had been able to ac­cess a sim­i­lar drug from com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies for a frac­tion of the cost, or Ja­cobus’ for free, as part of an FDA-rat­i­fied com­pas­sion­ate use pro­gram.

But the ap­proval of the Cat­a­lyst drug — ac­com­pa­nied by mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty span­ning sev­en years — ef­fec­tive­ly pre­clud­ed Ja­cobus and com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies from sell­ing their ver­sions.

Then, in an un­ex­pect­ed twist, the FDA en­dorsed New Jer­sey-based Ja­cobus’ ver­sion in pe­di­atric pa­tients, on the ba­sis of adult da­ta — a move that could spark off-la­bel pre­scrip­tion in adults (As far as the FDA is con­cerned, doc­tors can pre­scribe drugs for off-la­bel use when they judge that it is med­ical­ly ap­pro­pri­ate for their pa­tient). Adding fu­el to the fire, Ja­cobus’s drug, Ruzur­gi, car­ries a list price that is less than half of Fir­dapse’s. Cat­a­lyst main­tains that typ­i­cal­ly, cov­ered pa­tients pay less than $10 per month out-of-pock­et.

In an in­ter­view with End­points News ahead of Cat­a­lyst’s third-quar­ter re­sults ex­pect­ed mid-No­vem­ber, chief Patrick McE­nany said that the Ruzur­gi ap­proval has trig­gered a “trick­le of ero­sion” on its LEMS pa­tient base. “It was not un­ex­pect­ed,” he said.

In June, Cat­a­lyst filed a law­suit against the health reg­u­la­tor — ef­fec­tive­ly ac­cus­ing the agency of bow­ing to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure sur­round­ing sky­rock­et­ing drug prices. Un­der fed­er­al law, the agency is meant to treat all com­pa­nies in the same man­ner. Cat­a­lyst has as­sert­ed the agency un­der­mined its or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty, and vi­o­lat­ed fed­er­al law by play­ing fa­vorites in the con­text of a hy­per­vig­i­lant pric­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (AP Images)

Pas­cal So­ri­ot cash­es in As­traZeneca’s chips on Mod­er­na for $1.2B cash in­jec­tion

While still working to prove its own Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca has reportedly capitalized on the success of another.

The company has sold off its 7.7% stake in Moderna and turned it into $1.2 billion in cash, according to the Times, beefing up the reserves just as Pascal Soriot is wrapping up his $39 billion acquisition of Alexion and its rare disease pipeline.

AstraZeneca’s stock sale follows a similar move by Merck in December. But like its pharma brethren, the British giant is keeping its R&D collaborations with Moderna.

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Paul Sekhri

The next big biotech su­per­star? Paul Sekhri has some thoughts on that

It occasionally occurs to Paul Sekhri that if they pull this off, his company will be on the front page of the New York Times and a lead story in just about every major news outlet on the planet. He tries not to dwell on it, though.

“I just want to be laser-focused on getting to that point,” Sekhri says, before acknowledging, “Yes, it absolutely crossed my mind.”

Sekhri, a longtime biopharma executive with tenures at Sanofi and Novartis, is now entering year three as CEO of eGenesis, the biotech that George Church protégé Luhan Yang founded to genetically alter pigs so that they can be used for organ transplants. He led them through one megaround and has just closed another, raising $125 million from 17 different investors to push the first-ever (humanized) pig to human transplants into the clinic.

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Amit Munshi, Arena

One of Are­na's top drugs flops in a PhI­Ib study for IBS pain. But re­searchers tease out a pos­si­ble path for­ward as CEO ex­plores 's­trate­gic op­tion­s'

Four years ago, when Arena CEO Amit Munshi cut its ties to a troubled weight drug and doubled down on the pipeline, a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist figured prominently in the biotech’s future. On Tuesday evening, however, Munshi’s high hopes for the drug took a nasty hit after it failed a Phase IIb study for patients with irritable bowel syndrome pain.

Put through a randomized pace with 273 patients, researchers said it flat failed the primary endpoint among the large group with abdominal pain. But they quickly went on to highlight subgroup data, always a tricky and controversial ploy, where they spotlighted a positive p value for patients with moderate to severe pain who received the high dose of the drug — one of 3 provided in the study.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

With stars aligned and cash in re­serve, Bob Nelsen's Re­silience plans a makeover at 2 new fa­cil­i­ty ad­di­tions to its drug man­u­fac­tur­ing up­start

Bob Nelsen’s new, state-of-the-art drug manufacturing initiative is taking shape.

Just 3 months after gathering $800 million of launch money, a dream team board and a plan to shake up a field where he found too many bottlenecks and inefficiencies for the era of Covid-19, Resilience has snapped up a pair of facilities now in line for a retooling.

The company has acquired a 310,000-square-foot plant in Boston from Sanofi along with a 136,000-square-foot plant in Ontario to add to a network which CEO Rahul Singhvi says is just getting started on building his company’s operations up. The Sanofi deal comes with a contract to continue manufacturing one of its drugs.

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CEO Marco Taglietti (Scynexis)

'N­ev­er been more ur­gent:' Scynex­is looks to tack­le su­per­bug cri­sis with late-stage read­out for an­ti­fun­gal hope­ful

As the superbug crisis heats up around the world, Scynexis says it has new data from two interim analyses that prove its antifungal has the potential to treat a broad range of infections.

“The need for new anti-infectives capable of fighting the most resistant pathogens has never been more urgent as we confront the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” CEO Marco Taglietti said in a statement.

A spot­light schiz­o­phre­nia drug in Neu­ro­crine's $2B Take­da deal flunks its first ma­jor test. But it's not giv­ing up yet

When Takeda spun out a pipeline of experimental psychiatry drugs to Neurocrine in a $2 billion deal amid a post-merger shakeout, R&D chief Andy Plump described the therapies as “very interesting but still difficult.”

On Tuesday, we got some idea of how difficult.

San Diego-based Neurocrine revealed that one of the three spotlight clinical programs they’d acquired failed the primary endpoint in a Phase II trial for schizophrenia, registering a negative outcome on the change from baseline in the positive and negative syndrome scale/negative symptom factor score (PANSS NSFS).

Af­ter bail­ing on Covid-19 vac­cines, Mer­ck will team up with J&J to pro­duce its shot as part of un­usu­al Big Phar­ma pact

Merck took a big gamble when it opted to jump into the Covid-19 vaccine race late, and made an equally momentous decision to back out in late January. Now, looking to chip in on the effort, Merck reportedly agreed to team up with one of the companies that has already crossed the finish line.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce a partnership between drugmakers Merck and Johnson & Johnson to jointly produce J&J’s recombinant protein Covid-19 vaccine that received the FDA’s emergency use authorization Saturday, the Washington Post reported.

Ab­b­Vie tees up a biotech buy­out af­ter siz­ing up their Parkin­son's drug spun out of Ke­van Shokat's lab

AbbVie has teed up a small but intriguing biotech buyout after looking over the preclinical work it’s been doing in Parkinson’s disease.

The company is called Mitokinin, a Bay Area biotech spun out of the lab of UCSF’s Kevan Shokat, whose scientific explorations have formed the academic basis of a slew of startups in the biotech hub. One of Shokat’s PhD students in the lab, Nicholas Hertz, co-founded Mitokinin using their lab work on PINK1 suggesting that amping up its activity could play an important role in regulating the mitochondrial dysfunction contributing to Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis and progression.

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