Check­point com­bos for can­cer are all the rage as tri­al spon­sors line up hun­dreds of new stud­ies — re­port

Num­ber of An­ti-PD-1/PD-L1 MAb com­bi­na­tion stud­ies 2015 vs. 2017
Full Re­port: Eval­u­ate Ltd. May 2017


Over the last few months it hasn’t been un­usu­al to see new com­bi­na­tion stud­ies be­ing an­nounced on a dai­ly ba­sis, match­ing one of the 5 ap­proved PD-(L)1 check­point drugs with an­oth­er can­cer ther­a­py. Some morn­ings they come in pairs.

It’s not hard to see why. The check­points typ­i­cal­ly work as a monother­a­py — though there have been some nasty set­backs over the past 6 months. And some of the big play­ers are hap­py to con­tribute their drug to stud­ies spon­sored by oth­ers look­ing to ad­vance a pi­lot Phase I/II ex­plorato­ry study. There are al­so re­cent ex­am­ples of some big tie-ups be­tween Mer­ck (Keytru­da) and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb (Op­di­vo) check­points with In­cyte in Phase III.

In­cyte has its own PD-1 in the clin­ic as it lines up these ag­nos­tic late-stage tri­als to po­si­tion its lead­ing IDO1 drug.

Now EP Van­tage has tal­lied the whole score on these com­bo tri­als, not co­in­ci­den­tal­ly just ahead of AS­CO, and found a stun­ning 765 com­bi­na­tion stud­ies list­ed on clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov. Keytru­da leads the pack, with 268 — up from 70 just 18 months ago. For Bris­tol-My­ers it’s 242, more than three times the num­ber EP Van­tage’s ed­i­to­r­i­al team found in 2015.

Any­one even mod­er­ate­ly in­ter­est­ed in this field will want to check it out di­rect­ly. There’s a lot of de­tail on what’s now in the clin­ic.

Don’t ex­pect the ris­ing trend lines to start to plateau any­time soon, ei­ther, as Pfiz­er/Mer­ck KGaA (Baven­cio) and As­traZeneca (Imfinzi) start to gain trac­tion on the com­bo front. Roche al­ready emerged as the num­ber three play­er in the field with Tecen­triq, though its re­cent Phase III fail­ure for its check­point may chill oth­er would-be part­ners.

Mean­while, new check­point play­ers like BeiGene and Lil­ly are mov­ing along, the re­port notes, while No­var­tis has been ad­vanc­ing its own in-house check­point pro­grams. The sec­ond wave of PD-(L)1 ther­a­pies will be large.

One of the key next steps in this field is in As­traZeneca’s hands. It has a com­bo of Imfinzi with an in-house CT­LA-4 check­point dubbed treme­li­mum­ab in the MYS­TIC study that will read out soon for lung can­cer. An­a­lysts are wait­ing ea­ger­ly to see if it can beat out the com­pe­ti­tion, or get side­lined by some well-known tox­i­c­i­ty con­cerns.

One thing is ab­solute­ly cer­tain. Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb start­ed as the dom­i­nant play­er in PD-(L)1, then got checked by a surg­ing Mer­ck when it made the wrong clin­i­cal move on non-small cell lung can­cer. As­traZeneca, the last of the big 5 to land an ap­proval, just days ago stunned vir­tu­al­ly every­one with pos­i­tive Phase III da­ta for Imfinzi in un­re­sectable lung can­cer, pro­vid­ing ear­ly dom­i­nance in a sig­nif­i­cant niche mar­ket.

The Big Phar­ma’s stock soared as an­a­lysts be­gan to cal­cu­late what that is worth.

Just at a time when check­points should start get­ting more pre­dictable, the field seems to be ripe for fresh sur­pris­es of all kinds. And that will con­tin­ue to at­tract fresh waves of com­bi­na­tion stud­ies tack­ling all kinds of can­cers.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Amgen VP of R&D David Reese

Am­gen rolls out da­ta for KRAS in­hibitor com­bo study in col­orec­tal can­cer, hop­ing to move on from ug­ly ear­ly re­sults

With the first win for its KRAS inhibitor sotorasib in hand, Amgen is pushing ahead with an aggressive clinical plan to capitalize on its first-to-market standing. The drugmaker thinks combinations — in-house or otherwise — could offer a path forward, and one early readout from that strategy is bearing fruit.

A combination of Amgen’s sotorasib and its EGFR inhibitor Vectibix posted an overall response rate of 27% in 26 patients with advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) with the KRAS-G12C mutation, according to data from the larger Phase Ib/II CODEBREAK 101 study set to present at this weekend’s virtual ESMO Congress.

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As­traZeneca touts Imfinzi im­munother­a­py com­bos for lung can­cer in push to dri­ve PD-L1 drug up­take

Facing the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 space, AstraZeneca has taken its own contender Imfinzi into blockbuster territory in its four years on the market but sees even bigger things for the drug. Combinations could be the key, and early results from a mid-stage test are adding some fuel to that strategy.

Imfinzi combined with one of two investigational immunotherapies — a CD73 antibody dubbed oleclumab or an Innate’s anti-NGK2a named monalizumab — topped Imfinzi alone in terms of overall response and progression-free survival in patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors had not worsened during concurrent chemoradiation, according to interim data from the Phase II COAST trial set to be presented at #ESMO21.

Gri­fols drops $1B on Ger­man hold­ing com­pa­ny in con­tin­ued plas­ma push

One Spanish biotech is beefing up its plasma therapy operations, and on Friday, it announced that it’s doing so in a billion-dollar deal.

Grifols is now the largest shareholder of Biotest, a company valued at more than $1.8 billion. By teaming up, the two will try to increase the number of plasma therapies available and increase patient access around the world, Grifols said in a press release.

The company did so by acquiring holding company Tiancheng Pharmaceutical, the Germany-based owner of nearly 90% of Biotest shares, for nearly $1.27 billion. Grifols now owns nearly 90% of Biotest voting rights and almost 45% of the total share capital of Biotest.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Eu­ro­pean study finds that Gilead­'s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir shows no clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Gilead’s remdesivir — or Veklury, as it’s marketed in the US — raked in around $2.8 billion last year as the only FDA-approved antiviral to treat Covid-19. But new data from a European study suggest the drug, which has been given to about half of hospitalized Covid patients in the country, has no actual benefit.

The open-label DisCoVeRy trial enrolled Covid-19 patients across 48 sites in Europe to test a handful of treatments, including remdesivir, lopinavir–ritonavir, lopinavir–ritonavir and interferon beta-1a, and hydroxychloroquine. To participate, patients had to show symptoms for seven days and require oxygen support. A total of 429 patients were randomized to receive remdesivir plus standard of care, while 428 were assigned to standard of care alone.

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Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks CEO

Zymeworks squares up with Her­ceptin af­ter HER2 bis­pe­cif­ic aces mid-stage test in esophageal can­cer

Roche’s Herceptin has long stood as standard of care across multiple advanced cancers, but a suite of next-gen players are looking to beat the aging giant at its own game. In HER2-expressing esophageal cancer, BeiGene partner Zymeworks thinks its bispecific antibody could have the juice to get it done.

Zymeworks’ bispecific antibody zanidatamab, combined with one of two chemotherapy regimens, posted an overall response rate of 75% in patients with advanced gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma (GEA) who had not previously received a HER2-targeted cancer therapy, the Vancouver-based biotech said Thursday.

Covid-19 roundup: FDA re­veals boost­er ad­comm ques­tion; Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cock­tail cleared for pre­ven­tion

The FDA released briefing documents this week from the agency and Pfizer each outlining their arguments for today’s Covid-19 booster shot adcomm, but one thing conspicuously missing was the question on which panel members would be voting. But late Thursday night, regulators published that question.

Adcomm members will be asked whether or not the safety and efficacy data from Pfizer/BioNTech’s original Phase III study “support approval” of a booster shot at least six months after the second dose in individuals older than 16. The question notably excludes the real-world data from Israel and other analyses that Pfizer and the Biden administration had said would be a centerpiece of their arguments for boosters.

A Pfiz­er part­ner wel­comes ex-ADC Ther­a­peu­tics CMO Jay Fein­gold to the team; Amid tough sled­ding, Im­muno­vant choos­es Eli Lil­ly alum as CFO

→ Last week we told you about the CMO revolving door at ADC Therapeutics, as Joseph Camardo replaced the departing Jay Feingold. The next opportunity for Feingold in the CMO slot has opened up at antibody-drug conjugate and mAb developer Pyxis Oncology, which has added several new execs and scientific advisory board members in recent months, including ex-Immunovant CFO Pamela Yanchik Connealy. Before his tenure at ADC, Feingold was Daiichi Sankyo’s VP of US medical affairs and chairman of the Global Medical Affairs Oversight Committee. Within weeks in March, Pyxis struck a licensing deal with Pfizer for two of its ADCs and raked in $152 million from a Series B round.