Ei­sai, Bio­gen bat­tered by con­tro­ver­sy over PhII Alzheimer's study af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive re­sults

At first blush, Ei­sai and Bio­gen post­ed the kind of promis­ing da­ta for BAN2401 that might have over­come some doubts about its po­ten­tial as a treat­ment for Alzheimer’s, a field marked by the wreck­age of re­peat­ed, high pro­file fail­ures. But in­stead of cheer­ing on ev­i­dence of suc­cess, a large group of an­a­lysts last night ze­roed in on a cru­cial change in the study that could have con­found­ed the da­ta pre­sent­ed — and now we have a brand new con­tro­ver­sy to add to the lit­er­a­ture of Alzheimer’s.

Af­ter build­ing sky high ex­pec­ta­tions over the course of the past few days, Ei­sai in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­lied with Bio­gen $BI­IB said Wednes­day af­ter­noon that the high dose of BAN2401 pro­duced pos­i­tive da­ta in a mid-stage study with a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant 30% slow­ing in the rate of de­cline com­pared to the place­bo arm in the high dose arm of the study at 18 months.

That 30% slow­ing was based on a unique set of goals out­lined in their be­spoke AD­COMS mea­sure of the clin­i­cal de­cline ex­pe­ri­enced by pa­tients with Alzheimer’s, which is an­oth­er rea­son why there’s so much de­bate over the val­ue of the re­sults. But the re­search team al­so not­ed that there was a re­mark­able 47% im­prove­ment in the rate of de­cline at 18 months when the high dose arm was mea­sured by the stan­dard ADAS-Cog test.

A win­ner? No, be­cause it turns out there was a big catch.

Crit­ics quick­ly be­gan pulling apart the da­ta, find­ing enough holes in it to squelch Bio­gen’s share price, which plunged 12%. Ei­sai would quick­ly fol­low with its own drub­bing af­ter ques­tions were raised in a call with Bio­gen ex­ecs about a de­ci­sion by Eu­ro­pean reg­u­la­tors to move APOe4 car­ri­ers out of the high dose arm as they were wor­ried by the threat of brain swelling — or ARIA-E — which they are prone to. APOe4 car­ri­ers are at high­er risk of the dis­ease as well as faster pro­gres­sion, and putting them in low­er dose arms — while leav­ing APOe4 pa­tients in the place­bo group — raised the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the re­searchers had made it pos­si­ble for the high dose arm to hit sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

Oth­er­wise, it could have all been just an­oth­er fail­ure.

Ge­of­frey Porges notes this morn­ing:

The dis­par­i­ty be­tween the 30% rate of APOe4 car­ri­ers in the high­est 10mg/kg Q2 week arm, and the 71% rate in the place­bo arm, and the 73-91% rate of APOe4 car­ri­ers in the oth­er ac­tive arms, pro­vides a pu­ta­tive ex­pla­na­tion for the dif­fer­ence in cog­ni­tion de­cline seen in the high­est dose arm com­pared to place­bo and oth­er ac­tive arms. If Ei­sai’s sub group analy­sis sug­gests that this dif­fer­ence in de­cline per­sists even in the pa­tients in all the arms who are not APOe4 car­ri­ers, this pro­gram may have a fu­ture, but if not, it could eas­i­ly turn out to be an in­ter­est­ing arte­fact in the on­go­ing be­ta amy­loid Alzheimer’s dis­ease saga.

And Bio­gen CMO Al San­drock didn’t ex­clude the pos­si­bil­i­ty.

“It’s one of the first things we’re go­ing to look at, is the sub­group analy­sis of APOE4 car­ri­ers ver­sus non car­ri­ers,” he told an­a­lysts. “I’m sure my col­leagues at Ei­sai are work­ing on it right now.”

What Ei­sai want­ed to fo­cus on is this: The drug clear­ly sep­a­rat­ed from place­bo at 6 months for ADAS-Cog and con­tin­ued out for 18 months, as you can see here:


That hit a p-val­ue of 0.017, which was bet­ter than their own in­ter­nal­ly cre­at­ed mea­sure­ment, specif­i­cal­ly de­signed to pick up cog­ni­tive sig­nals in ear­ly-stage pa­tients.

The da­ta were re­viewed at the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence in Chica­go. And Ei­sai has been en­thu­si­as­ti­cal­ly seiz­ing on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval — which is now high­ly un­like­ly.

“The goal is to bring this to pa­tients as soon as pos­si­ble,” says Ivan Che­ung — who runs the US group for Ei­sai. But that’s go­ing to take some work, and close talks with the FDA.

The da­ta al­so re­mained pos­i­tive when pulled out at 6 and 12 months, he adds. “The curve ex­pands over time,” he notes, though the com­pa­ny is not de­tail­ing the hard num­bers on those end­points, oth­er than say­ing they are sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant.

In­vestors, though, were in a crit­i­cal frame of mind, look­ing at the down­side af­ter all the chat­ter.

Ivan Che­ung

Why would the ADAS-Cog test look bet­ter than AD­COMS? 

“At this ear­ly stage of dis­ease you have more cog­ni­tive than func­tion­al de­cline,” Che­ung tells me, which is why a cog­ni­tive test is more like­ly to pick it up. 

Promis­ing da­ta in mid-stage Alzheimer’s are not new, but it’s al­so rare to see sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant num­bers like these. Af­ter more than a decade of fail­ure, some skep­tics will re­quire sol­id piv­otal da­ta from two stud­ies to con­vince them, but the de­vel­op­ment part­ners say they are ready to start ex­plor­ing path­ways to an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval at a time the FDA has been say­ing they are in­creas­ing­ly open to pro­vid­ing an ap­proval based on cog­ni­tion alone, rather than both cog­ni­tion and func­tion — a long­time gold stan­dard.

Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney said Thurs­day morn­ing there’s no chance of that hap­pen­ing now.

Now that we have seen it, we’re ac­tu­al­ly shocked that Bio­gen hadn’t cleared up any spec­u­la­tion about fil­ing on this da­ta when it first came up fol­low­ing the top line an­nounce­ment a cou­ple of weeks ago. Ron Farkas may not be there any longer but Bil­ly Dunn and Er­ic Bast­ings are no pushovers in FDA’s Di­vi­sion of Neu­rol­o­gy Prod­ucts and we don’t see any way that this study meets the reg­u­la­to­ry thresh­old of “sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence of ef­fi­ca­cy.”

The Phase II con­tro­ver­sy comes as hopes for the amy­loid be­ta hy­poth­e­sis have dwin­dled, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter twin set­backs for BACE drugs by both Mer­ck and an Eli Lil­ly/As­traZeneca team.

Any ap­proval here would like­ly green-light an in­stant block­buster, with mil­lions of pa­tients ea­ger to try any­thing that might be able to bend the curve of this aw­ful, mem­o­ry-wast­ing dis­ease.

So here come some added caveats. The study failed the pri­ma­ry end­point at 12 months al­ready, which was es­tab­lished as a Bayesian analy­sis in­tend­ed to spot suc­cess at an ear­li­er stage. But push­ing ahead, they switched to more stan­dard tech­niques.

Here’s the way the mar­ket was bet­ting ahead of the re­view.

At a 10% im­prove­ment over the con­trol arm, you could ex­pect plen­ty of skep­ti­cism. Mizuho said it wouldn’t be sur­prised — but would be pleased — with a 15% slow­ing.  

But wait. Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges be­lieved that any­thing un­der 15% was like­ly to be seen as a weak re­sponse, with dam­ag­ing re­sults for the de­vel­op­ers’ stocks. Any­thing over 30%, he said, would dri­ve a ma­jor ral­ly, on top of the one al­ready seen on the top line da­ta.

I asked USC Alzheimer’s ex­pert Lon Schnei­der for his take. His re­sponse:

This is what I’ve been telling peo­ple.
Not a ver­dict. Not a bi­na­ry event. The spon­sors learned what they need­ed to re dose range, 64% prob­a­bil­i­ty of be­ing su­pe­ri­or to place­bo by a 25% re­duc­tion on their com­pos­ite score. The drug does what it was en­gi­neered to do.

It’s full speed ahead at Ei­sai.

Lynn Kramer

“We are do­ing a bunch of sub­group analy­sis,” says Ei­sai chief med­ical of­fi­cer for neu­rol­o­gy Lynn Kramer, “look­ing for big­ger ef­fects and so on. We will be tak­ing that to FDA in the fall about next steps and what we may do. Op­tions in­clude an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval,” but that would re­quire an on­go­ing Phase III to nail down.

All that has yet to play out.

 

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar I dis­or­der to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar I disorder to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar I disorder after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.