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.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; FDA ap­proves Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine stor­age at stan­dard freez­er temps

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fatty liver conceptual image, 3D illustration showing fatty liver silhouette made from micrograph of liver steatosis (Shutterstock)

The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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