Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An ear­ly-stage up­date on Ad­verum Biotech­nolo­gies’ in­trav­it­re­al gene ther­a­py has trig­gered in­vestor con­cern, af­ter pa­tients with wet age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion (AMD) saw their vi­sion de­te­ri­o­rate, de­spite signs that the treat­ment is im­prov­ing reti­nal anato­my.

Ad­verum, on Wednes­day, un­veiled 24-week da­ta from the OP­TIC tri­al of its ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py, AD­VM-022, in six pa­tients who have been ad­min­is­tered with one dose of the ther­a­py. On av­er­age, pa­tients in the tri­al had se­vere dis­ease with an av­er­age of 6.2 an­ti-VEGF in­jec­tions in the eight months pri­or to screen­ing and an av­er­age an­nu­al­ized in­jec­tion fre­quen­cy of 9.3 in­jec­tions.

Over the six month pe­ri­od, pa­tients did not re­quire any an­ti-VEGF res­cue in­jec­tions — and five of six pa­tients saw a com­plete re­sponse with a to­tal res­o­lu­tion of flu­id fol­low­ing the Ad­verum in­jec­tion. There were no se­ri­ous ad­verse events, and the ma­jor­i­ty of side-ef­fects were mild.

How­ev­er, pa­tients lost vi­su­al acu­ity by two let­ters on av­er­age, with a 90% con­fi­dence in­ter­val of -9.1 let­ters to +5.1 let­ters.

Mani Foroohar

“The range of in­di­vid­ual pa­tient da­ta were not pre­sent­ed, though the wide con­fi­dence in­ter­val sug­gests that some pa­tients may have ex­pe­ri­enced a loss of more than 10 let­ters dur­ing the course of the tri­al – lack of res­cue in­jec­tions is dif­fi­cult to square with de­clin­ing vi­sion.” SVB Leerink’s Mani Foroohar wrote in a note.

“How­ev­er, the study in­ves­ti­ga­tor in­sist­ed no loss in vi­sion was due to wet AMD pathol­o­gy and ob­served loss of vi­su­al acu­ity is due to nor­mal vari­abil­i­ty…in a small set of pa­tients – an as­ser­tion that, if proved out with ad­di­tion­al fol­low-up, would very sub­stan­tial­ly im­prove the im­plied qual­i­ty of this dataset.”

Shares of the com­pa­ny — which spec­tac­u­lar­ly failed years ago when it was chris­tened Avalanche Biotech­nolo­gies — $AD­VM were down about 6.8% to $5.56 in Fri­day pre­mar­ket trad­ing. The stock sank on Thurs­day, evap­o­rat­ing mil­lions from its mar­ket val­ue.

“This da­ta sug­gest AD­VM-022 is po­ten­tial­ly ac­tive in de­liv­er­ing an ex­press­ible gene cas­sette in wet AMD, but mixed sig­nals in this small dataset should lift some of the com­pet­i­tive over­hang on RGNX shares,” Foroohar added. Re­genexBio ex­per­i­men­tal gene ther­a­py for wet AMD, RGX-314, is cur­rent­ly in a Phase I/II tri­al.

Wet AMD, which is char­ac­ter­ized by blurred vi­sion or a blind spot in an in­di­vid­ual’s vi­su­al field, is typ­i­cal­ly caused by ab­nor­mal growth of blood ves­sels that leak flu­id or blood in­to the mac­u­la. Mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion is the lead­ing cause of se­vere, ir­re­versible vi­sion loss in the el­der­ly. An­ti-VEGF in­jec­tions such as Re­gen­eron’s $REGN flag­ship Eylea, as well as Roche’s $RHB­BY Lu­cen­tis and Avastin, are com­mon­ly used to treat wet AMD.

In April, the FDA im­posed a clin­i­cal hold on an ap­pli­ca­tion to test AD­VM-022 in hu­mans, ask­ing for ad­di­tion­al da­ta on Ad­verum’s chem­istry, man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­trol process. In May, the hold was lift­ed. Late last year, the biotech aban­doned its then lead ex­per­i­men­tal drug, AD­VM-043, for the treat­ment of A1AT de­fi­cien­cy.

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

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Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: Bris­tol My­ers sus­pends clin­i­cal tri­als, grounds field team; Vir ush­ers an­ti­body can­di­dates to hu­man test­ing

The global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is manifesting more profoundly every day. With Spain’s death toll now surpassing China’s and India on full lockdown, the number of confirmed cases around the world has exceeded 436,000 while recoveries edged close to 112,000.

While the outbreak derails R&D at another pharma giant, several drugmakers have some encouraging updates on both experimental and repurposed molecules. Philanthropic campaigns in anticipation of the economic fallout continue. An Australian biotech is taking extreme measures to hunker down. There’s also an alternative epidemiology model emerging out of the UK, stirring up more discussion regarding the true extent of the infections in the country.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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