Cel­lec­tis preps for ground­break­ing US tri­als for an off-the-shelf CAR-T ther­a­py

Cel­lec­tis is ramp­ing up the first-ever US tri­al launch­es for an off-the-shelf CAR-T ther­a­py.

The Paris-based biotech $CLLS, which has a siz­able R&D group in Man­hat­tan, says the FDA has signed off on their IND for a Phase I study of UCART123 in acute myeloid leukemia and blas­tic plas­ma­cy­toid den­drit­ic cell neo­plasm.

The plan now is to get start­ed in the next few months, wrap up their ear­ly-stage work in ear­ly 2018 and then launch what they hope will be a reg­is­tra­tional Phase II tri­al in mid-2018 — pro­vid­ed the FDA signs off, Dr. Loan Hoang-Sayag, Cel­lec­tis’ chief med­ical of­fi­cer, tells End­points News via email.

Servi­er and part­ner Pfiz­er have been col­lab­o­rat­ing with Cel­lec­tis on an on­go­ing Phase I study for the lead ther­a­py, UCART19, in the UK. UCART123 is a sole­ly-owned Cel­lec­tis pro­gram us­ing TAL­EN en­gi­neered T cells.

The biotech is com­ing in be­hind lead au­tol­o­gous CAR-T play­ers Kite and No­var­tis, both of which are an­gling for the first-ever ap­proval this year for reengi­neered cells ex­tract­ed from pa­tients. Cel­lec­tis, helmed by CEO An­dre Chouli­ka, has been steadi­ly ad­vanc­ing these off-the-shelf ther­a­pies as an eas­i­er to man­u­fac­ture and de­liv­er can­cer treat­ment that could be a nat­ur­al suc­ces­sor to the first CAR-Ts to hit the mar­ket.

It’s a tricky process though. Their ther­a­py has been test­ed in com­pas­sion­ate use cas­es, and in one in­stance re­quired steroids to tamp down on an im­mune re­sponse, which is one re­ac­tion they def­i­nite­ly don’t want to see in an al­lo­gene­ic ap­proach. The au­tol­o­gous lead­ers have been us­ing pa­tient-de­rived cells pre­cise­ly in or­der to avoid any im­mune re­sponse.

UCART123 is a gene-edit­ed T-cell in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al drug that tar­gets CD123, an anti­gen ex­pressed at the sur­face of leukemic cells in AML, tu­moral cells in BPD­CN. The clin­i­cal re­search for AML will be led at Weill Cor­nell by prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Dr. Gail J. Roboz, sirec­tor of the Clin­i­cal and Trans­la­tion­al Leukemia Pro­grams. The UCART123 clin­i­cal pro­gram for BPD­CN will be led at the MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter by Dr. Naveen Pem­mara­ju, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, and Pro­fes­sor Hagop Kan­tar­jian, de­part­ment chair of the De­part­ment of Leukemia, Di­vi­sion of Can­cer Med­i­cine.

Hoang-Sayag called the move “a ma­jor mile­stone not on­ly for the com­pa­ny but al­so for the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty, glob­al biotech and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­tries at large. Cel­lec­tis’ al­lo­gene­ic UCART prod­ucts have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate an im­por­tant shift with re­gard to avail­abil­i­ty, and cost-ef­fec­tive­ness, to make these ther­a­pies wide­ly ac­ces­si­ble to pa­tient pop­u­la­tion across the world.”

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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FDA ap­proves an­oth­er in­di­ca­tion for Keytru­da, this time in the ad­ju­vant NSCLC set­ting

Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda has been handed another indication by the FDA.

The US regulator announced on Thursday that it has approved Keytruda to serve as an adjuvant treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is its fifth indication in NSCLC and 34th indication overall.

According to a Merck release, the approval is based on data from a Phase III trial, dubbed Keynote-091, which measured disease-free survival in patients who received chemotherapy following surgery. The data from Merck displayed that Keytruda cut down on the risk of disease recurrence or death by 27% versus placebo.

Ying Huang, Legend CEO

J&J, Leg­end say Carvyk­ti beat stan­dard ther­a­py in ear­li­er-line blood can­cer

J&J and Legend Biotech’s next step in turning their CAR-T therapy Carvykti into a potential megablockbuster has succeeded, the companies said Friday.

Carvykti achieved the primary endpoint — progression-free survival — in an open-label Phase III study testing the treatment in second- to fourth-line multiple myeloma patients. The CARTITUDE-4 trial, for which there aren’t any hard data yet, represents the biggest development for Carvykti’s ability to compete with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abecma since its approval last February.

Dutch biotech starts liq­ui­da­tion af­ter end­ing PhI­II in GVHD

A 13-year-old Dutch biotech is going through a liquidation process after an unexpected end to its Phase III trial testing whether its combination of two monoclonal antibodies was superior to Incyte’s Jakafi.

Xenikos had hoped to prove its investigational therapy, named T-Guard, was better than Jakafi at garnering a complete response in patients experiencing life-threatening complications in which new cells from a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begin to fight the body. Jakafi was approved for the indication, steroid-refractory acute graft-versus-host disease, in May 2019.

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Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

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