Roger Perlmutter, Merck

Catch­ing up with Roche, Mer­ck racks up pos­i­tive da­ta in front­line triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer

Mer­ck’s Keytru­da may not have qual­i­fied as a sec­ond- or third-line treat­ment of triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer, but the PD-1 in­hibitor is show­ing promise for the first-line set­ting in a Phase III tri­al.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors for the KEYNOTE-355 study re­port that Keytru­da plus chemother­a­py sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­proved pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival for pa­tients with metasta­t­ic TNBC whose tu­mors ex­press PD-L1 com­pared to chemo alone, hit­ting a co-pri­ma­ry end­point.

The topline re­sult was from an in­ter­im analy­sis. The oth­er pri­ma­ry end­point, over­all sur­vival, is still be­ing eval­u­at­ed.

Front­line triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer — a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard to treat form of the dis­ease that ac­counts for 10% to 20% of all breast can­cer cas­es — is one of the rare fields in which Roche’s PD-L1 Tecen­triq has en­joyed a head start over Keytru­da and Op­di­vo, the lead­ers in the check­point race. Tecen­triq is ap­proved in com­bi­na­tion with Abrax­ane for this in­di­ca­tion.

It didn’t help when Mer­ck con­ced­ed fail­ure in KEYNOTE-119, where Keytru­da failed to help pre­vi­ous­ly treat­ed pa­tients live longer.

But things soon took a turn for the bet­ter, as the com­pa­ny found that a neoad­ju­vant reg­i­men of Keytru­da and chemo — fol­lowed by Keytru­da monother­a­py af­ter surgery — in­duced a high­er patho­log­i­cal com­plete re­sponse rate. The con­trol arm, which re­ceived chemo alone, saw a pCR of 51.2% ver­sus 64.8% for the Keytru­da group.

That’s a key mark­er for pro­gres­sion and re­cur­rence, ex­ecs said.

But SVB Leerink an­a­lysts are less op­ti­mistic. In a note, Daina Gray­bosch point­ed out that the tri­al had six pri­ma­ry end­points, not all of which ap­peared to have been met. On­ly pa­tients with PD-L1 Com­bined Pos­i­tive Score (CPS) ≥ 10 ben­e­fit­ed, but not those whose CPS was high­er than or equal to 1.

Though they re­port­ed pos­i­tive topline da­ta for Keytru­da (pem­brolizum­ab) with chemother­a­py in PD-L1 high pa­tients, the reg­i­men failed to show ben­e­fit in a broad­er TNBC pop­u­la­tion. By the time Mer­ck en­ters the mar­ket, Roche will have a two-year lead, in ad­di­tion to a more pre­dic­tive bio­mark­er for clin­i­cal ben­e­fit (im­mune-cell (IC) PD-L1). A launch for Keytru­da in neo-ad­ju­vant TNBC would mit­i­gate this mar­ket risk, but we do not ex­pect this un­til 2021 at the ear­li­est, await­ing more ma­ture dis­ease-free sur­vival da­ta.

Roger Perl­mut­ter, who over­sees Keytru­da’s ex­pan­sive de­vel­op­ment pro­gram, high­light­ed that tri­al — KEYNOTE-522 — to­geth­er with the new Phase III as he talked up the po­ten­tial of reg­is­tra­tion.

While tar­get­ed ther­a­pies have ben­e­fit­ed a num­ber of breast can­cer pa­tients, the fact that TNBC is nei­ther fu­eled by the hor­mones es­tro­gen and prog­es­terone nor by the HER2 pro­tein ren­ders it es­pe­cial­ly hard to treat.

“While de­tail da­ta has yet to be an­nounced, a PFS hit in this pop­u­la­tion is im­por­tant giv­en the lack of avail­able ther­a­pies in this dis­ease, and fur­ther in­di­cates a role of check­point in­hibitors in a sub­set (of) TNBC pa­tients,” Mara Gold­stein of Mizuho not­ed about KEYNOTE-355.

Roche is look­ing to ex­pand its suc­cess with the Tecen­triq and Abrax­ane reg­i­men by adding their PI3K/AKT path­way drug ipatasert­ib to the mix — with some en­cour­ag­ing ear­ly da­ta.

Oth­er small­er play­ers have ze­roed in on new tar­gets, such as pro­tein ki­nase C, Lipocalin 2 and CD24.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.

Ex-My­lan em­ploy­ee pleads guilty to in­sid­er trad­ing, il­le­gal­ly deal­ing on FDA ap­provals, earn­ings and Up­john merg­er

A former Mylan IT executive pleaded guilty Friday to an insider trading scheme where he bought and sold stock options on another executive’s advice.

Prosecutors secured the plea from Dayakar Mallu, Mylan’s former VP of global operations information technology, after uncovering the plan. Mallu collaborated with an unnamed “senior manager,” the SEC said, to trade options ahead of Mylan public announcements regarding FDA approvals, revenue reports and its merger with the Pfizer generics subsidiary Upjohn. The two subsequently shared profits.

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As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

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Den­mark's Gubra to col­lab­o­rate with Bay­er on pep­tides; Sam­sung and Bio­gen re­ceive FDA ap­proval for Lu­cen­tis biosim­i­lar

Danish biotech Gubra announced a research collaboration and license agreement with Bayer to develop peptide therapeutics to treat cardiorenal diseases. The collaboration will utilize Gubra’s peptide drug discovery platform to identify potential candidates.

This is not the first time Gubra has partnered with a company on peptide therapeutics — they partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim back in 2017 to create peptide therapeutics to treat obesity.