Covid-19 roundup: CDER pon­ders a move to vir­tu­al ad­comms; con­ser­v­a­tive group urges eas­i­er ac­cess to hy­drox­y­chloro­quine

It’s all hands on the vir­tu­al deck at the FDA. And the folks at CDER are con­sid­er­ing set­ting up a new on­line ap­proach to hold­ing ad­comm meet­ings go­ing for­ward.

Mark Senak, who writes the Eye on FDA blog, posed a se­ries of ques­tions for CDER, in­clud­ing one on ad­comms, which are be­ing in­ter­rupt­ed as the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic spreads in the US and around the globe.

As of now, the FDA is can­cel­ing all non-es­sen­tial meet­ings at the agency, in­clud­ing the ad­comms, through April. But CDER does see a pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ty for go­ing vir­tu­al — a big deal in an in­dus­try that re­lies on these meet­ings to keep its R&D strat­e­gy in­tact.

Here’s the ex­change be­tween Senak and CDER on the ad­comms:

Does FDA plan on at­tempt­ing vir­tu­al ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee meet­ings?

As this re­mains a dy­nam­ic sit­u­a­tion, we will con­tin­ue to as­sess and cal­i­brate our ap­proach. Where pos­si­ble the agency will lever­age tech­nol­o­gy to host meet­ings al­low­ing for re­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion. We thank you for your pa­tience. In con­sid­er­ing nec­es­sary steps for pro­tecting pub­lic health, in­clud­ing our spon­sors, our com­mit­tee mem­bers and our work­force, we are can­celling or post­pon­ing all non-es­sen­tial meet­ings through the month of April. We will re­assess on an on-go­ing ba­sis for fu­ture months. Where pos­si­ble the agency will lever­age tech­nol­o­gy to host meet­ings al­low­ing for re­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion.

→ A con­ser­v­a­tive group called the Job Cre­ators Net­work — which in­cludes Home De­pot co-founder Bernard Mar­cus as a key backer — is call­ing on Pres­i­dent Trump to clear away the “red tape” and make hy­drox­y­chloro­quine more eas­i­ly avail­able.

The drug is fre­quent­ly cit­ed by Trump as a pos­si­ble short-term panacea for the Covid-19 out­break. It’s al­so un­cer­tain whether it will help at all or cause more dam­age than good — some­thing that is be­ing test­ed in a clin­i­cal pro­gram now. In the mean­time, it’s be­come one of the most pop­u­lar drugs avail­able, mak­ing sup­plies scarce. And that’s what the group wants Trump to fix.

“We’re not ad­vo­cat­ing that peo­ple should take the drug,” a spokesper­son told the Wall Street Jour­nal. “We’re ad­vo­cat­ing that doc­tors should have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to pre­scribe it if they want to do so. The prob­lem is no one can find it. It’s a sup­ply-side is­sue.”

→ British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son has test­ed pos­i­tive for coro­n­avirus — on Wednes­day, he ad­dressed Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in the House of Com­mons.

→An­oth­er set of drug de­vel­op­ers have thrown their hat in­to the an­ti-Covid-19 ring. In ad­di­tion to pro­grams from Mod­er­na, which is al­lied with the NIH — and BioN­Tech, as well as Cure­VacSanofi is al­so work­ing on an mR­NA vac­cine ap­proach with Trans­late Bio, in ad­di­tion to its pre­vi­ous­ly un­veiled tra­di­tion­al vac­cine pro­gram. (End­points Link)

Hep B vac­cine mak­er Dy­navax is al­so work­ing on a vac­cine, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land as part of a Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness (CEPI) ini­tia­tive.

→ Ex­ist­ing di­ag­nos­tic tests bank on PCR tech­nol­o­gy, which is en­gi­neered to hone in on the virus’ RNA genome. How­ev­er, if the per­son re­cov­ers from the coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion, that ev­i­dence dis­ap­pears. How­ev­er, an­ti­body tests — which re­ly on blood in­stead of nasal or throat swabs — are ex­pect­ed to re­veal who has had the in­fec­tion but was asymp­to­matic and has re­cov­ered. Once col­lect­ed, this in­for­ma­tion will re­veal the full scope of the pan­dem­ic and in­form con­tain­ment strate­gies across the globe. It will al­so help re­searchers work­ing on plas­ma ther­a­pies, which re­quire blood from sur­vivors.

New York-based Hen­ry Schein on Thurs­day said it was mak­ing avail­able an an­ti­body test (green­lit by the FDA un­der emer­gency guid­ance), which de­liv­ers re­sults with­in 15 min­utes from a pin­prick with no in­stru­men­ta­tion re­quired. The com­pa­ny ex­pects to have at least sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand tests avail­able by March 30 and sig­nif­i­cant­ly in­creased avail­abil­i­ty be­gin­ning in April, it said.

Mean­while, the Unit­ed King­dom is work­ing on its own an­ti­body tests; sci­en­tists in Sin­ga­pore have used to trace chains of trans­mis­sion, and the CDC re­port­ed­ly has plans for its own.

Iron­wood Phar­ma, which sells the bow­el drug Linzess with part­ner Al­ler­gan, said the pan­dem­ic is im­pact­ing en­roll­ment in its late-stage gas­troe­sophageal re­flux dis­ease tri­al. Near­ly 70% of the en­roll­ment tar­get has been hit, but the com­pa­ny no longer ex­pects to re­port top-line da­ta in the sec­ond half of 2020.

→ A glove short­age is re­port­ed­ly loom­ing, as Malaysia — the coun­try that dom­i­nates pro­duc­tion — reels from staff cuts in plants as a re­sult of a lock­down in the re­gion.

→ The US mil­i­tary, ac­cord­ing to Reuters, plans to stop dis­clos­ing some of the more “gran­u­lar da­ta” about in­fec­tions with­in its ranks, fear­ing the in­for­ma­tion may be used by ad­ver­saries.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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Am­gen sev­ers 14-year Cy­to­ki­net­ics part­ner­ship, bail­ing on ome­cam­tiv af­ter mixed PhI­II re­sults

Amgen is shrugging off a 14-year development alliance and the tens of millions of dollars spent to develop a new heart drug at Cytokinetics after a Phase III trial turned up weak data — leaving Cytokinetics to soldier on alone.

Omecamtiv mecarbil technically worked, meeting the primary composite endpoint in the Phase III GALACTIC-HF study. But it missed a key secondary endpoint, which analysts had been following as a key marker for success — reduction of cardiovascular (CV) death. While Cytokinetics celebrated the results, its stock tanked 43% upon the news, and analysts warned of an uncertain path ahead. Now, Amgen wants out.

News brief­ing: Ab­b­Vie part­ner Teneo­bio ex­pands tech li­cense with CAR-T play­er Po­sei­da; Ar­genx buys PRV from Bay­er for $98M

Teneobio may be best known for its pact with AbbVie and Gilead, but before its big break the bispecific player had licensed its antibodies for a different use: as binders in CAR-T therapies being developed by Poseida.

Now, the biotechs are expanding their partnership, with Poseida exercising four options to deploy Teneobio’s heavy chain only domain antibodies commercially.

The commercial licensing fees remained under wraps, but Teneobio is eligible for $250 million in milestones for these CAR-Ts against undisclosed targets.