Cel­gene works to calm down anx­ious in­vestors, promis­ing to re-file ozan­i­mod at the FDA in ear­ly 2019

For weeks now, an­a­lysts have been fret­ting over the fu­ture of Cel­gene’s $CELG mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug ozan­i­mod. Turned away at the FDA’s front door with a refuse-to-file let­ter, their at­ten­tion fo­cused on an ac­tive metabo­lite of the drug and spec­u­la­tion over whether or not the big biotech would be forced to run a new hu­man study to sat­is­fy reg­u­la­tors that would set them back years.

Mark Alles

This morn­ing, Cel­gene ex­ecs went to some pains to ex­plain that the de­lay would stretch out on­ly to Q1 2019 as re­searchers un­der­took some bridg­ing non-clin­i­cal stud­ies of the drug. No lengthy hu­man stud­ies would be need­ed, the com­pa­ny added. And they would hus­tle along a Eu­ro­pean ap­pli­ca­tion along­side the FDA pitch in the first few months of next year.

The rea­son for the de­lay: “Ozan­i­mod is me­tab­o­lized in hu­mans to form one ma­jor ac­tive metabo­lite (CC-112273) and oth­er mi­nor ac­tive metabo­lites,” the com­pa­ny re­port­ed. And that metabo­lite has a long half life of 10 to 13 days.

Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat sees this as a pos­i­tive. He notes:

If this metabo­lite was a small % of over­all ozan­i­mod AUC, that would be a rea­son­able con­clu­sion.  How­ev­er, we learned that this metabo­lite is ~90% of AUC in hu­mans… that’s key … be­cause what that means to me is that this metabo­lite is ef­fec­tive­ly the drug as we know it.  Said an­oth­er way, all the Ph 2/Ph 3 stud­ies we saw on ozan­i­mod was ef­fec­tive­ly this metabo­lite.  For that rea­son, it seems that hu­man stud­ies should not be need­ed and that’s what CELG is guid­ing.

Of course, if you were look­ing for a quick­er turn­around, the glass at Cel­gene could look more half emp­ty right now. Not­ed Ge­of­frey Porges:

This new time­line is three quar­ters be­hind what we have fore­cast and may put the com­mer­cial launch in some un­cer­tain­ty giv­en the ex­pect­ed en­try of gener­ic Gilenya. Cel­gene an­nounced that the ozan­i­mod re­sub­mis­sion plan will in­clude bridg­ing non-clin­i­cal stud­ies and ad­di­tion­al analy­sis of ex­ist­ing PK/PD da­ta, but em­pha­sized that ad­di­tion­al hu­man clin­i­cal ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty stud­ies are not need­ed.

The drug is a cen­tral part of CEO Mark Alles’ case that the com­pa­ny has a bright fu­ture ahead of it, ca­pa­ble of earn­ing $4 bil­lion to $6 bil­lion. Alles has been rack­ing up a se­ries of new deals, buy­ing Juno for $9 bil­lion, and re­vamp­ing the com­pa­ny’s com­mand struc­ture as a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ing sna­fus raised ques­tions about a com­pa­ny that has long been ad­mired for its abil­i­ty to ex­e­cute quick­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly.

Cel­gene has lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror now. Any new slips will like­ly be se­vere­ly pun­ished.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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No­vo CEO Lars Fruer­gaard Jør­gensen on R&D risk, the deal strat­e­gy and tar­gets for gen­der di­ver­si­ty

 

I kicked off our European R&D summit last week with a conversation involving Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. Novo is aiming to launch a new era of obesity management with a new approval for semaglutide. And Jørgensen had a lot to say about what comes next in R&D, how they manage risk and gender diversity targets at the trendsetting European pharma giant.

John Carroll: I’m here with Lars Jørgensen, the CEO of Novo Nordisk. Lars, it’s been a really interesting year so far with Novo Nordisk, right? You’ve projected a new era of growing sales. You’ve been able to expand on the GLP-1 franchise that was already well established in diabetes now going into obesity. And I think a tremendous number of people are really interested in how that’s working out. You have forecast a growing amount of sales. We don’t know specifically how that might play out. I know a lot of the analysts have different ideas, how those numbers might play out, but that we are in fact embarking on a new era for Novo Nordisk in terms of what the company’s capable of doing and what it’s able to do and what it wants to do. And I wanted to start off by asking you about obesity in particular. Semaglutide has been approved in the United States for obesity. It’s an area of R&D that’s been very troubled for decades. There have been weight loss drugs that have come along. They’ve attracted a lot of attention, but they haven’t actually ever gained traction in the market. My first question is what’s different this time about obesity? What is different about this drug and why do you expect it to work now whereas previous drugs haven’t?

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Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (via Getty images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA slaps As­traZeneca's MCL-1 can­cer drug with a hold af­ter safe­ty is­sue — 2 years af­ter Am­gen axed a trou­bled ri­val

There are new questions being posed about a class of cancer drugs in the wake of the second FDA-enforced clinical hold in the field.

Two years after the FDA hit Amgen with a clinical hold on its MCL-1 inhibitor AMG 397 following signs of cardiac toxicity, AstraZeneca says that regulators hit them with a hold on their rival therapy of the same class.

The pharma giant noted on clinicaltrials.gov that its Phase I/II study for the MCL-1 drug AZD5991 “has been put on hold to allow further evaluation of safety related information.”

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Sur­geons suc­cess­ful­ly at­tach pig kid­ney to a hu­man for the first time, us­ing tech from Unit­ed's Re­vivi­cor

In a first, researchers reportedly successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a human without triggering an immediate immune response this week. And the technology came from the biotech United Therapeutics.

Surgeons spent three days attaching the kidney to the patient’s blood vessels, but when all was said and done, the kidney appeared to be functioning normally in early testing, Reuters and the New York Times were among those to report. The kidney came from a genetically altered pig developed through United’s Revivicor unit.

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Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Sen­a­tors back FDA's plan to re­quire manda­to­ry pre­scriber ed­u­ca­tion for opi­oids

Three Senate Democrats are backing an FDA plan to require mandatory prescriber education for opioids as overdose deaths have risen sharply over the past decade, with almost 97,000 American opioid-related overdose deaths in the past year alone.

While acknowledging a decline in overall opioid analgesic dispensing in recent years, the FDA said it’s reconsidering the need for mandatory prescriber training through a REMS given the current situation with overdoses, and is seeking input on the aspects of the opioid crisis that mandatory training could potentially mitigate.