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.

 

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

UCB adds on more pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta for IL-17A/17F in­hibitor bimek­izum­ab, clear­ing a path to the FDA

A month after posting positive top-line data from their first Phase III trial of the IL-17A/17F inhibitor bimekizumab, Belgium’s UCB says they’ve added more upbeat results from their second late-stage test in moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis.

That leaves the company on track for regulatory submissions in the middle of next year, says CMO Iris Loew-Friedrich.
Their drug beat out a placebo on the co-primaries — a 90% improvement in PASI 90 (the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) and Investigator Global Assessment (IGA) response of clear or almost clear (IGA 0/1) at week 16, compared to placebo. Investigators also boasted of hitting some key secondaries.
UCB is angling to enter an increasingly crowded market space.
In their first of 3 Phase III studies for bimekizumab, researchers touted top-line wins on statistically significant results on clearing plaque psoriasis, including a victory over J&J’s IL-23 contender Stelara on key endpoints. The drug targets both IL-17A and IL-17F, a modification on the IL-17A strategy laid out for Taltz (Eli Lilly) and Cosentyx (Novartis). And the new group also includes J&J’s Tremfya and AbbVie’s Skyrizi.

Social image: UCB