Eli Lil­ly shut­ters the last PhI­II so­la study, cer­tain of fail­ure

David Ricks, Lil­ly

Eli Lil­ly has tak­en an­oth­er big re­verse step in its re­treat from solanezum­ab, the Alzheimer’s drug once con­sid­ered the com­pa­ny’s lot­tery tick­et in R&D.

Fol­low­ing the fail­ure of Ex­pe­di­tion 3, Lil­ly’s mas­sive­ly ex­pen­sive third at­tempt to come up with sol­id da­ta of its ef­fi­ca­cy, in­ves­ti­ga­tors have now washed their hands of Ex­pe­di­tion Pro, an­oth­er Phase III study mount­ed for pa­tients with prodomal dis­ease, when their mem­o­ry be­gins to fade but they can still func­tion well on a dai­ly ba­sis.

In a call with an­a­lysts on Tues­day, CEO David Ricks says that in light of the over­lap in Ex­pe­di­tion 3 and the Ex­pe­di­tion Pro study, there was no sci­en­tif­ic ba­sis to be­lieve they would find a “mean­ing­ful ben­e­fit to pa­tients with prodomal Alzheimer’s dis­ease.”

Lil­ly had set out to re­cruit 2,450 patents for Ex­pe­di­tion Pro, which was due to wrap in 2021.

In an­oth­er note, Lil­ly’s Q4 up­date in­clud­ed the end of a Phase I study for “A ß An­ti­body Fab PEG,” a new bi­o­log­ic en­ti­ty that had been stud­ied for Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Ricks took over as CEO at the start of his year, and gets to start his tenure by large­ly bury­ing what re­mains of one of the biggest late-stage ef­forts in the in­dus­try, long pur­sued by John Lech­leit­er. An­a­lysts have long been re­luc­tant to give Lil­ly good odds on the drug, but in the off chance they were suc­cess­ful, many be­lieved it could have racked up $10 bil­lion in an­nu­al sales.

In­stead, the drug has be­come the lat­est vic­tim in a near com­plete clin­i­cal rout on the Alzheimer’s front, where re­searchers have been shut out of any im­por­tant ad­vances for the past decade.

Lil­ly is not quite fin­ished with so­la, though. The pre­clin­i­cal study in Alzheimer’s dis­ease (An­ti-Amy­loid Treat­ment in Asymp­to­matic Alzheimer’s “A4”), and Dom­i­nant­ly In­her­it­ed Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, known as ”DI­AN,” con­tin­ue).

Lil­ly’s most ad­vanced Alzheimer’s ef­fort now cen­ters on a BACE drug it in-li­censed from As­traZeneca (AZD3293), to re­place its own pro­gram that was scut­tled by tox­i­c­i­ty.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s Q&A with an­a­lysts, Lil­ly chief sci­en­tist Jan Lund­berg was giv­en the task of ex­plain­ing the com­pa­ny’s at­ti­tudes about the A be­ta hy­poth­e­sis, which it’s been ex­plor­ing for years. So­la was de­signed to get rid of tox­ic con­cen­tra­tions of amy­loid be­ta, which many be­lieve is a cause of the dis­ease. It’s worth quot­ing him at length.

The amy­loid-be­ta hy­poth­e­sis and the con­nec­tion to Alzheimer’s dis­ease has strong ev­i­dence from ge­net­ics, where if you have too much amy­loid in your brain, you get ear­ly Alzheimer’s dis­ease. And al­so the op­po­site, if you have less amy­loid-be­ta pro­duc­tion then by mu­ta­tions in the APP in the BACE1 cleav­age side, you al­so seem to be pro­tect­ed from de­men­tia.

The key ques­tion is so how do you trans­late then these ge­net­ics in­to re­al­i­ties of phar­ma­co­log­i­cal treat­ment in an aged pa­tient? And here there are a va­ri­ety of ap­proach­es that have been used. And it’s al­so a key one here to think about if you have an an­ti­body with ac­cess to brain, 0.1% through the blood/brain bar­ri­er, how can you com­pare that re­sult then to, for in­stance, an oral BACE in­hibitor, which some of them go 100% in­to the brain and are I think more like­ly to have a marked ef­fect than on the free amy­loid be­ta?

And the sec­ond ques­tion is clear­ly then how ear­ly do you have to treat? And I think we should rec­og­nize that even if you have mild Alzheimer’s dis­ease, your brain has been ac­cu­mu­lat­ing amy­loids for decades, and you al­most have max­i­mum amy­loid in your brain al­ready. So I think there could be two com­po­nents here, like I say. If solanezum­ab re­al­ly en­tered the brain enough to af­fect amy­loid be­ta, I think our bio­mark­ers like amy­loid PET didn’t re­al­ly change very much by solanezum­ab, nor did the ac­tu­al­ly tau then changes, which are more re­lat­ed to neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion change. So from that stand­point, we didn’t see any ob­jec­tive mea­sures I think that we changed the amy­loid con­tent in the brain, nor then neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion.

Is this against or does this prove that the amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis is wrong? My view is it’s too ear­ly to say. We need to wait for even more pow­er­ful agents. And the next in turn are the oral-based in­hibitors, which are more like­ly I think to have an even stronger ef­fect on the amy­loid be­ta in the brain. And in ad­di­tion then, we need to look at ear­li­er stages of Alzheimer’s.

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Tony Coles, Cerevel CEO

Cerev­el takes the pub­lic of­fer­ing route, with a twist — rais­ing big mon­ey thanks to ri­val da­ta

As public biotechs seek to climb out of the bear market, a popular strategy to raise cash has been through public offerings on the heels of positive data. But one proposed raise Wednesday appeared to take advantage not of a company’s own data, but those from a competitor.

Cerevel Therapeutics plans to raise $250 million in a public offering and another $250 million in debt, the biotech announced Wednesday afternoon, even though it did not report any news on its pipeline. However, the move comes days after rival Karuna Therapeutics touted positive Phase III data in schizophrenia, a field where Cerevel is pursuing a similar program.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' 2022 spe­cial re­port

Over the past three years, Endpoints News has spotlighted 60 women who have blazed trails and supercharged R&D across the biopharma world. And judging from the response we’ve received, to both our special reports and live events, telling their stories — including any obstacles they may have had to overcome — has inspired our readers in many different ways.

But change takes time, and the fact remains that women are still underrepresented at the upper ranks of the drug-making world.

Bernat Olle, Vedanta Biosciences CEO

Cit­ing 'chal­leng­ing eco­nom­ic en­vi­ron­ment,' PhI­II-ready mi­cro­bio­me biotech lays off 20% of staffers

The market downturn isn’t just sweeping up public biotechs.

Vedanta Biosciences, a developer of oral drugs derived from the human microbiome, is laying off about 20% of its staff — an unfortunately common occurrence these days. But CEO Bernat Olle took the unusual step of sharing the decision on LinkedIn and offering to connect the employees being let go with any company that’s hiring in their areas.

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Hervé Affagard, MaaT Pharma CEO

One year in­to clin­i­cal hold, FDA has more ques­tions about 'pooled' mi­cro­bio­me ther­a­py

The FDA is still wary about a trial testing a microbiome therapy in patients with steroid-resistant acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD).

A year after MaaT Pharma’s IND application in the US was first met with a clinical hold, the French biotech said the agency is maintaining the hold. The crux of the matter, MaaT suggested, has to do with the way it puts together its drug candidate, which is administered as an enema (i.e. an injection of fluid into the bowel).

Up­dat­ed: Amid mas­sive re­struc­tur­ing, Bio­gen looks to re­duce phys­i­cal pres­ence in Boston

Biogen is putting a sizable chunk of office and research space in Kendall Square and Weston, MA up for sublease, marking another big change as the biotech grapples with the aftershock of a disastrous and controversial rollout for its Alzheimer’s drug.

The subbleases are “part of Biogen’s overall implementation of the ‘Future of Work,’ which is allowing us to optimize our footprint and reduce the amount of space we occupy, taking into consideration new elements such as the hybrid work model,” Biogen spokesperson Ashleigh Koss wrote in a statement to Endpoints News, adding that the company has had subleases across several buildings for years.

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Saurabh Saha, Centessa CEO (BIO19)

One of 2021's star biotech play­ers flags an­oth­er big set­back for the pipeline

Two months after scuttling their lead drug, Centessa’s executive team is back with the latest in a series of setbacks that have tanked its stock and blown holes in its strategic lineup of biotech subs.

The company reported in its Q2 post today that it has decided to scrap ZF874 after a patient demonstrated elevated liver enzymes — a classic red safety flag — in a Phase I study for alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT).

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Illustration: Kim Ryu for Endpoints News

Why non-opi­oid pain drugs keep fail­ing — and what's next for the field

In 1938, Rita Levi-Montalcini was forced to move her lab into her bedroom in Turin, as Mussolini’s facist government expelled Jewish people from studying or working in schools in Italy. Levi-Montalcini, then just a few years out of medical school and using sewing needles as scalpels in her makeshift lab, would soon discover nerve growth factor, or NGF, in chicken embryos.

Her discoveries formed the basis of our understanding of the peripheral nervous system and how cells talk to each other, and Levi-Montalcini went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1986. Much later, NGF was hailed as a promising target for new pain therapies, with some analysts quoting an $11 billion market. However, the latest anti-NGF candidate, Pfizer and Eli Lilly’s tanezumab, was rejected by the FDA last year because of a side effect that dissolved bone in some of its patients.

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Pfiz­er launch­es re­bate pro­gram for rare dis­ease pa­tients who have to stop tak­ing Panzy­ga

Pfizer is launching its second-ever rebate program, this time for Panzyga, its treatment for a rare neurological disease of the peripheral nerves.

The program began last month, according to STAT which first reported the news, and offers a refund of out-of-pocket costs for patients who must discontinue their course before the fifth treatment for “clinical reasons.”

Panzyga was approved back in 2018 to treat primary immunodeficiency (PI) in patients two years and older and chronic immune thrombocytopenia (cITP) in adults. It has since picked up an indication in chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a condition that’s characterized by weakness of the arms or legs, tingling or numbness, and a loss of deep tendon reflexes, according to the NIH.