Durect shares stum­ble as top drug fails mid-stage tri­al

Durect’s shares are crash­ing again.

Two years af­ter a No­var­tis-part­nered Phase III flop sent them in­to pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry, Durect has failed an­oth­er tri­al for a top can­di­date. This time, though, the biotech may have bet­ter fall­back op­tions.

DUR-928, the lead drug in Durect’s epi­ge­net­ic reg­u­la­tor pro­gram, was test­ed in 28 plaque pso­ri­a­sis pa­tients. Each pa­tient served as their own con­trol, with the drug ad­min­is­tered to one arm and the place­bo ad­min­is­tered to the oth­er. The good news was that there was no mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence in ad­verse ef­fects be­tween the two arms. The bad news was there didn’t seem to be much of a dif­fer­ence at all, as DUR-928 “did not demon­strate a ben­e­fit over ve­hi­cle (place­bo)” and missed all pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary end­points.

Durect’s shares $DR­RX, which had been ris­ing for months, fell 34% to $2.50.

Durect an­nounced it is dis­con­tin­u­ing the top­i­cal pso­ri­a­sis pro­gram, but that is on­ly one of the three in­di­ca­tions in which the biotech is test­ing DUR-928. They al­so have an in­jectable form of the drug in Phase II for al­co­holic he­pati­tis and an oral form in Phase I for non­al­co­holic steato­hep­ati­tis, bet­ter known as NASH. Pos­i­tive re­sults came out for the al­co­holic he­pati­tis pro­gram in No­vem­ber; pa­tients in the treat­ment arm saw a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in biliru­bin, the yel­low sub­stance in bile that gives pa­tients the well-known jaun­diced look.

The tri­al fail­ure comes as the biotech pre­pares for a key reg­u­la­to­ry date for the No­var­tis-part­nered drug, a post-op­er­a­tion non-opi­oid pain drug now called Posimir. The drug has had a rocky his­to­ry, in­clud­ing a 2012 tri­al fail­ure, a 2014 CRL from the FDA, and a 2016 re­quest from the agency to change their tri­al de­sign, help­ing lead to the 2017 fail­ure.

Durect re­spond­ed to the CRL this past June, repack­ag­ing their orig­i­nal sub­mis­sion to fo­cus on six tri­als. It’s not yet clear what the FDA will say, but the new sub­mis­sion con­vinced the agency to de­lay an ear­ly PDU­FA date of De­cem­ber 27 and give the biotech an ad­comm meet­ing for lat­er this month.

The Durect pro­gram with the most po­ten­tial, though, may end up be­ing their long-act­ing in­jectable HIV can­di­date, part of their SABER plat­form. Gilead paid $25 mil­lion up­front and promised mil­lions more in mile­stones to latch on­to that plat­form. They op­tioned the HIV drug in Sep­tem­ber for a $10 mil­lion pay­ment.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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Nkarta CEO Paul Hastings at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Nkar­ta un­der­scores safe­ty of CAR-NK, boasts ear­ly re­spons­es

The first generation of personalized CAR-T therapies made big waves in the treatment of lymphoma for their stunning efficacy. Nkarta is hoping its off-the-shelf natural killer cell approach will stand out on safety — while keeping some of those impressive numbers on responses.

In a new update from its Phase I dose escalation study, the South San Francisco-based biotech reported that seven out of 10 patients treated with the highest doses of its NK cell therapy, NKX019, achieved a complete response, translating to a complete response rate of 70%.

Pfiz­er-backed Me­di­ar Ther­a­peu­tics ropes in an­oth­er Big Phar­ma in­vestor

A biotech centered on treating fibrosis — born out of Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has received a financial boost.

According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $31,761,186 in its latest funding round, which includes 17 investors. The filing lists six names attached to the company, including Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures and Mediar’s acting CEO.

Sekar Kathiresan, Verve Therapeutics CEO

Verve re­veals let­ter from FDA that lays out con­di­tions to lift base edit­ing tri­al hold

We now know why Verve’s lead candidate was placed on hold last month by US regulators.

In an SEC filing, Verve laid out the FDA’s conditions for lifting the hold on its lead therapy, VERVE-101. That includes submitting preclinical data about potency differences in human versus non-human cells, risks of gene editing germline cells, and off-target analyses in non-hepatocyte cell types.

The FDA also wants clinical data from the ongoing Heart-1 trial, and to modify the trial protocol in the US to add additional contraceptive measures and increase the length of a staggering interval between the dosing of participants.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls

Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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