Covid-19 roundup: RE­COV­ERY tri­al halts re­cruit­ment for colchicine study af­ter find­ing ‘no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence’; Italy blocks As­traZeneca vac­cine ship­ment meant for Aus­tralia

It may be the end of the road for colchicine, an in­ex­pen­sive oral an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug com­mon­ly used to treat gout, as a po­ten­tial Covid-19 treat­ment — at least in hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients.

The UK’s RE­COV­ERY tri­al put out the word on Fri­day that it’s halt­ing en­roll­ment in its colchicine study af­ter a da­ta mon­i­tor­ing com­mit­tee saw “no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that fur­ther re­cruit­ment would pro­vide con­clu­sive proof of worth­while mor­tal­i­ty ben­e­fit ei­ther over­all or in any pre-spec­i­fied sub­group.”

In a pre­lim­i­nary analy­sis of 11,162 pa­tients ran­dom­ized to re­ceive ei­ther colchicine or stan­dard care alone, there was no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in the pri­ma­ry end­point of 28-day mor­tal­i­ty, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers. The mor­tal­i­ty rate was 20% in the colchicine group ver­sus 19% in the usu­al care group. The fi­nal re­sults will be pub­lished “as soon as pos­si­ble,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment.

The RE­COV­ERY tri­al was es­tab­lished to test a range of po­ten­tial treat­ments for Covid-19. Re­cruit­ment to all the oth­er treat­ment arms — in­clud­ing as­pirin, baric­i­tinib, Re­gen­eron’s an­ti­body cock­tail, and (in se­lect­ed hos­pi­tals) di­methyl fu­marate — will go forth as planned.

“We do large ran­domised tri­als to es­tab­lish whether a drug that seems promis­ing in the­o­ry has re­al ben­e­fits for pa­tients in prac­tice,” Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty and joint chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor Mar­tin Lan­dray said in a state­ment. “Un­for­tu­nate­ly, colchicine is not one of those.”

The news comes just over a month af­ter Mon­tre­al re­searchers read out some con­tro­ver­sial da­ta on colchicine’s ef­fect as a Covid-19 treat­ment. While that study al­so failed its pri­ma­ry end­point, re­searchers said the drug “re­duces the com­pos­ite rate of death or hos­pi­tal­iza­tion” in non-hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients.

Out of 2,235 pa­tients in the colchicine group, 104 had been hos­pi­tal­ized or died; among 2,253 in the place­bo co­hort, 131 re­port­ed those events. That trans­lates to a 4.7% event rate ver­sus 5.8% on the pri­ma­ry end­point — or an odds ra­tio of 0.79 — with a p-val­ue of 0.08. Five pa­tients died in the colchicine arm, ver­sus nine in the place­bo group. On the sec­ondary end­point, 11 pa­tients tak­ing colchicine re­quired me­chan­i­cal ven­ti­la­tion while 21 who were giv­en place­bo did.

But if you look on­ly at the 4,159 pa­tients with PCR-con­firmed Covid-19, in­ves­ti­ga­tors wrote, the dif­fer­ence widens slight­ly to 4.6% ver­sus 6.0% and the 0.75 odds ra­tio be­comes sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant (p=0.04).

Lan­dray com­ment­ed that it was a “trav­es­ty” that in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the tri­al had stopped en­roll­ment with on­ly 75% of pa­tients, adding that it re­sult­ed in in­con­clu­sive re­sults and un­cer­tain­ty. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

Italy blocks As­traZeneca vac­cine ship­ment meant for Aus­tralia

The As­traZeneca/Ox­ford vac­cine roll­out has run in­to yet an­oth­er speed bump.

As the British drug­mak­er prepped a vac­cine ship­ment for Aus­tralia of about 250,000 dos­es, Italy de­cid­ed to pre­vent the de­liv­ery from leav­ing its bor­ders, per a Fi­nan­cial Times re­port. It’s the first such in­ter­ven­tion in vac­cine ex­ports since the Eu­ro­pean Union in­tro­duced new rules gov­ern­ing such ship­ments out­side the bloc in late Jan­u­ary.

Per the FT re­port, the EU had the pow­er to ob­ject to Italy’s move and block their ef­fort, but did not do so. And ear­ly Fri­day morn­ing, France backed Italy’s plan to stop the ship­ment head­ed to Aus­tralia.

The con­tro­ver­sial ex­port plan was put in­to place by the EU in the wake of As­traZeneca say­ing it wouldn’t be able to pro­vide the amount of dos­es pledged in its con­tracts a lit­tle over a month ago. Their hope is to force com­pa­nies to dis­close ex­port plans, the FT cit­ed Eu­ro­pean of­fi­cials as say­ing, as the bloc seeks to re­assert con­trol of dos­es man­u­fac­tured in­side its bor­ders.

Sev­er­al coun­tries had been ex­empt­ed from the plan, al­low­ing for As­traZeneca shots to be able to flow to poor­er na­tions and those with­out their own pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. EU of­fi­cials drew harsh crit­i­cism, how­ev­er, af­ter in­clud­ing the UK on the ex­emp­tion list de­spite leav­ing off oth­er in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions like the US and Japan.

Fri­day’s de­vel­op­ments fol­low a rocky road for the As­traZeneca/Ox­ford vac­cine. Though Britain and the EU have au­tho­rized the shot for use, there has been slow up­take around the world as the drug­mak­er and the bloc fought pub­licly over the dos­es the com­pa­ny would pro­vide. And some peo­ple in Eu­ro­pean coun­tries are re­port­ed­ly shun­ning the vac­cine in fa­vor of mR­NA-based shots with high­er topline ef­fi­ca­cy lev­els. — Max Gel­man

Ger­many al­lows use of As­traZeneca’s vac­cine in se­niors — re­port

Days af­ter Cana­di­an of­fi­cials said As­traZeneca’s Covid-19 vac­cine should not be used on se­niors, Ger­many has re­versed its de­ci­sion to re­strict the jab from those 65 and old­er.

The Ger­man Health Min­istry’s Per­ma­nent Vac­cine Com­mis­sion OK’d the vac­cine for use on se­niors on Thurs­day, and an­nounced it would up­date guid­ance to in­cor­po­rate a new rec­om­men­da­tion that dos­es be spaced 12 weeks apart, BBC re­port­ed. 

Health Min­is­ter Jens Spahn called the de­ci­sion “good news for old­er peo­ple who are wait­ing for an in­jec­tion,” per BBC.

The move was based on new ev­i­dence that As­traZeneca and Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty pre­sent­ed last month, which they said proves their vac­cine is more ef­fec­tive when ad­min­is­tered over the course of 12 weeks. The new reg­i­men has al­ready been ap­proved by the UK.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors wrote in a Lancet study:

In our study, vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy was high­er, af­ter the sec­ond dose, in those with a longer prime-boost in­ter­val, reach­ing 82.4% in those with a dos­ing in­ter­val of 12 weeks or more. Point es­ti­mates of ef­fi­ca­cy were low­er with short­er dos­ing in­ter­vals, though it should be not­ed that there is some un­cer­tain­ty as con­fi­dence in­ter­vals over­lap. High­er bind­ing and neu­tral­is­ing an­ti­body titres were ob­served in sera at the longer prime-boost in­ter­val, sug­gest­ing that, as­sum­ing there is a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the hu­moral im­mune re­sponse and ef­fi­ca­cy, these may be true find­ings and not arte­facts of the da­ta.

Back in Jan­u­ary, an ex­pert pan­el in Ger­many rec­om­mend­ed against giv­ing As­traZeneca’s vac­cine to those over the age of 65, cit­ing “in­suf­fi­cient da­ta avail­able to as­sess the vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy.”

While a Cana­di­an pan­el of vac­cine ex­perts said ear­li­er this week that vac­cines from Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na are pre­ferred for those over 65, France al­so de­cid­ed Mon­day to al­low the vac­cine’s use in se­niors. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

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

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Chris Gibson (Photo By Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion founders gin for­tunes as IPO back­ers show­er $436M on one of the biggest boasts in AI -- based on some very small deals

In the AI drug development world, boasting often comes with the territory. Yet few can rival Recursion when it comes to claiming the lead role in what company execs like to call the industrialization of drug development, with promises of continued exponential growth in the number of drugs it has in the pipeline.

On Friday, the Salt Lake City-based biotech translated its unicorn-sized boasts into a killer IPO, pricing more than 24 million shares at the high end of its range and bringing in $436 million — with a large chunk of that promised by some deep-pocket backers.

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Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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Covid-19 vac­cine halt drags on, an FDA ap­point­ment at long last, the great CRO con­sol­i­da­tion, 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.

Conference season is upon us, and while we’d much prefer to be wandering down the hallways and presentation rooms in person, the team is ready to cover the most consequential data coming out of these scientific meetings. Get in touch early if you have news to share.

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Joe Biden (Carolyn Kaster, AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Biden in­vests $1.7B to ad­dress Covid vari­ants; EU puts faith in Pfiz­er with new vac­cine deals

The Biden administration said Friday that it’ll pump $1.7 billion into various programs to address Covid-19 variants as the original strain of Covid-19 makes up only about half of all US cases today.

Most of those new funds, $1 billion in total, will go to expand genomic sequencing so the CDC, states and other jurisdictions can improve their capacity to identify Covid mutations and monitor the circulation of variants. Back in February, US labs were only sequencing about 8,000 Covid-19 strains per week, although the rate of sequencing has increased substantially since then, the administration said.

Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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