CRI re­port tracks ex­plo­sive growth of cell ther­a­pies in the glob­al pipeline, as Chi­na re­searchers mus­cle to­ward the front

The Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute is shin­ing a light on the ex­plo­sive growth of cell ther­a­pies in the clin­ic, spot­light­ing Chi­na’s vir­tu­al overnight suc­cess in grab­bing a lead role in the field. And they’re ask­ing the world’s can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies to adopt a new ap­proach that will help the in­dus­try man­age a fi­nite num­ber of po­ten­tial tri­al pa­tients while point­ing re­searchers to the most like­ly av­enue for do­ing some­thing im­por­tant — rather than just frit­ter­ing away bad­ly need­ed re­sources.

The non­prof­it CRI re­cent­ly quan­ti­fied the pro­lif­er­a­tion of I/O agents in the clin­ic, cap­tur­ing our at­ten­tion with the news that 164 PD-1/L1 ther­a­pies were in the pipeline, look­ing to whit­tle away at the block­buster lead­ers from Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. Now we learn from an up­date in Na­ture Re­views Drug Dis­cov­ery — penned by a team that in­cludes Jill O’Don­nell‐Tormey and Aiman Sha­l­abi — that they tracked down 753 cell ther­a­pies, with 375 in the clin­ic.

That fig­ure is up 87% in just 6 months, with 350 added to the pipeline around the world.

The tal­ly re­veals that “378 are in pre­clin­i­cal phase, 160 in phase I, 205 in phase II, 6 in phase II and 4 ap­proved (2 in the US, 1 in South Ko­rea and 1 in Italy),” re­ports the CRI. “In­ter­est­ing­ly, 404 of the 753 agents are chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tor (CAR) T cell ther­a­pies.”

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the US is in the clear lead here, with 344 pro­grams. But Chi­na is num­ber two, and catch­ing up fast, with 203. In a field where aca­d­e­m­ic cen­ters fre­quent­ly play a lead role in demon­strat­ing their po­ten­tial, 125 of Chi­na’s pro­grams — 62% — are in the hands of aca­d­e­mics.

Here’s a look at the glob­al play­ing field:

In the mean­time, it’s get­ting rapid­ly eas­i­er to get these ther­a­pies pro­duced for clin­i­cal tri­als vir­tu­al­ly any­where. “(W)ith the rapid ad­vance­ment of lo­cal cell pro­duc­tion tech­nolo­gies, such as Clin­i­MACS Prodi­gy (Mil­tenyi Biotec), Co­coon (Lon­za) and Bea­con (Berke­ley Lights), we an­tic­i­pate a low en­try hur­dle for lo­cal man­u­fac­ture of cells for in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al clin­i­cal use.”

There are 113 tar­gets on the radar in this field, with 73 in the clin­ic. CD19 rules the roost, for now, with BC­MA a grow­ing but still rel­a­tive­ly small seg­ment. Here’s a look at the top 30:

The boom­ing on­col­o­gy re­search field has de­liv­ered some im­por­tant gains in the last two years. But at this rate, the gold rush for ad­vanc­ing new drugs is spurring the CRI to out­line some bad­ly need­ed re­forms. Here are three:

  • They’re ask­ing the R&D ex­ecs here to shift more of their fo­cus to in­tro­duc­ing ge­net­ic con­structs in­to cells, rather than con­cen­trate on vi­ral vec­tors, where a pro­duc­tion bot­tle­neck has de­vel­oped.
  • Rather than squan­der the lim­it­ed ac­cess to pa­tient vol­un­teers on a mas­sive num­ber of new stud­ies, they want de­vel­op­ers to move to adap­tive tri­al de­signs that ac­com­mo­date mul­ti­ple drugs and tar­gets at once.
  • And with the big push on to ex­pand in­to sol­id tu­mors, CRI wants de­vel­op­ers to fo­cus on the most im­por­tant tar­gets not cur­rent­ly be­ing treat­ed well with ex­ist­ing drugs.

There’s no R&D czar in the world, though, that can de­mand dis­ci­pline in this field. Large play­ers have been re­sis­tant to be­ing told what to do as much as the small­er play­ers. And every­one wants to con­trol their own eco­nom­ics. The mar­ket is dri­ving the growth of the field, but it can’t triage how it grows — un­less in­vestors start hold­ing back funds in search of more com­mon sense.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Af­ter bruis­ing re­jec­tion, blue­bird and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb land ide-cel pri­or­i­ty re­view. But will it mat­ter for the CVR?

With the clock all but up, the FDA accepted and handed priority review to Bristol Myers Squibb and bluebird bio’s BCMA CAR-T, keeping a narrow window open for Celgene investors to still cash in on the $9 CVR from the $63 billion Celgene merger.

The acceptance comes five months after the two companies weres slammed with a surprise refuse-to-file that threatened to foreclose the CVR entirely. Today’s acceptance sets the FDA decision date for March 27, 2021 – or precisely 4 days before the CVR deadline of March 31. Given the breakthrough designation and strong pivotal data — 81.5% response rate, 35.2% complete response rate — priority review was largely expected.

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Can a mag­net­ic cell ther­a­py re­place corneal trans­plan­ta­tion? As eight-year jour­ney leads to the clin­ic, two broth­ers un­veil bold vi­sion

Jeff Goldberg was getting acquainted with a brand new way to do corneal transplants when an even newer, even bolder idea hit him.

It was almost 10 years ago, and Goldberg was in his first faculty position at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Scientists had developed a new way to do cornea transplants where instead of sewing a whole donor cornea — a decades-old practice — they were just engrafting the inner layer of cells.

Zai Lab hauls in $761M from Hong Kong IPO to push Ze­ju­la, more bud­ding can­di­dates in Chi­na — re­port

Zai Lab is set to net more than $761 million from its secondary listing in Hong Kong after pricing the IPO at $72.51 (HKD$562) — just a hair below its Nasdaq closing price on Monday, Bloomberg and Nikkei Asian Review reported.

A pioneer in bringing Western drugs to China, co-founder and CEO Samantha Du has more than tripled Zai Lab’s market cap in the three years it’s been public in the US. The HKEX listing is designed to fund R&D and commercialization for the current portfolio while fueling new in-licensing pacts, the biotech wrote in a filing.

Frank Zhang (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Rocked by cus­toms in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Leg­end's CFO takes over as CEO Frank Zhang placed un­der house ar­rest

When Frank Zhang stepped down from GenScript — the contract research group he’s run for 18 years — to take up the CEO post at its CAR-T focused spinout Legend Biotech, he assured analysts that he was in for the long haul.

Just 49 days later, though, he’s been forced to hand back the title.

In a dramatic turn of events, Legend disclosed that Zhang is under house arrest in China as part of a customs investigation involving GenScript. While he remains the chairman, CFO Ying Huang has been tapped to double as interim CEO.

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Blueprint CEO Jeff Albers (file photo)

Blue­print plots re­turn to FDA with new Ay­vak­it da­ta in rare con­di­tion — and the an­a­lysts cheer

Over a decade after launch, Blueprint Medicines nabbed the first approval for their first drug earlier this year. Now, as they move forward with a Roche-partnered global launch, they’re touting data that could push them into more patients.

The Jeff Albers-led Cambridge biotech released their full pivotal data for Ayvakit in patients with advanced systemic mastocytosis. In one 53-person study, they showed that 76% of patients responded to the drug, 36% had complete responses and that on average their responses lasted for just over 3 years. A smaller, 32-patient study had a 75% response rate and most were still responding after 10.4 months, the last follow-up.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists. HHS con­tin­ues to claim Azar “will de­fer com­plete­ly to the FDA"

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.