Eli Lil­ly sweeps the rest of the BACE work out of the pipeline fol­low­ing their lat­est ma­jor set­back on Alzheimer’s

Eli Lil­ly has suf­fered through the biggest set­backs in late-stage drug de­vel­op­ment work for Alzheimer’s — pil­ing up high-pro­file fail­ures for sema­gace­s­tat, solanezum­ab and just months ago lan­abece­s­tat af­ter it be­came ap­par­ent that the BACE ap­proach was a non-starter in symp­to­matic pa­tients. To­day, it’s sig­nal­ing that the com­pa­ny is now ready to fold their hand ear­ly if it doesn’t look like they have a rea­son­able chance to go on to win the pot.

Out in the quar­ter­ly cleanup went a Phase II BACE com­bo in­clud­ing an an­ti­body for N3PG. And the com­pa­ny al­so axed what was termed an SEL BACE 1 Phase I study. N3PG will con­tin­ue on its own.

“There are many vari­abil­i­ties at play with the BACE class and re­cent find­ings from Lil­ly and oth­ers have chal­lenged the BACE hy­poth­e­sis,” notes a spokesper­son from Eli Lil­ly in an email fol­lowup with me. “As a field we are still eval­u­at­ing the class and will con­tin­ue to have ro­bust sci­en­tif­ic dis­cus­sions about its vi­a­bil­i­ty.”

Mer­ck dealt a de­ci­sive blow to BACE with back-to-back Phase III stud­ies in which the drug did what was ex­pect­ed in terms of turn­ing the tap off on amy­loid be­ta, the long­time cul­prit for a dis­ease that wipes out mem­o­ry. With clear ev­i­dence that the strat­e­gy is a non-starter, Lil­ly and its part­ners at As­traZeneca agreed to kill off their late-stage pro­gram for lan­abece­s­tat af­ter re­view­ing the re­sults to date.

But BACE isn’t quite fin­ished yet. 

Back in ear­ly June, Ei­sai and Bio­gen claimed a sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess for their BACE drug, elen­be­ce­s­tat. But while the bio­mark­er for amy­loid be­ta re­duc­tion was hit, the re­searchers failed to see a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the de­cline of cog­ni­tion. That didn’t stop them from main­tain­ing that they had tracked a re­sponse “sug­gest­ing a de­lay of clin­i­cal symp­tom de­cline in ex­plorato­ry end­points.”

It wasn’t ex­act­ly a big win, rais­ing fresh doubts for two com­pa­nies that con­tin­ue to have a big stake in the amy­loid be­ta the­o­ry.

Ei­sai and Bio­gen have had their hands full de­fend­ing their da­ta on a dif­fer­ent drug, BAN2401, af­ter a change­up in the study de­sign drew a host of crit­ics sug­gest­ing that they had tilt­ed the tri­al to­ward a pos­i­tive out­come. And the crit­ics haven’t backed off af­ter a re­cent at­tempt to de­fend those re­sults.

Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

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Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

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Yung Chyung, Scholar Rock CMO (Business Wire)

A dark horse en­trant in­to the spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy field dou­bles its val­ue on some PhII da­ta

The last four years have seen a sudden explosion in treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, a neurodegenerative condition that once led patients — often young ones — with a grim prognosis and no options. The prognosis still isn’t rosy, but now there are three FDA-approved options, enough to make the choice of one difficult.

Now a fourth potential option has entered the mix. Today, Scholar Rock announced the results from a proof-of-concept testing their SMA drug by itself and in combination with Ionis’ Spinraza, showing that all patient cohorts improved on standard scales used for measuring motor function in people with SMA.

Cedric Francois, Apellis CEO (Optum via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: So­bi bets $250M cash, about $1B in mile­stones for rights to a C3 ther­a­py be­ing pushed through 5 piv­otal tri­als

A couple years after licensing Novimmune’s emapalumab and turning around a quick FDA OK, Stockholm-based Sobi is betting up to $1.2 billion for rights to another rare disease drug.

The company is shelling out $250 million upfront and adding up to $915 million in milestones for rights to develop and commercialize Apellis Pharmaceuticals’ drug pegcetacoplan outside the US. Together, the companies will see the systemic C3 therapy through five registrational trials in hematology, nephrology and neurology.

Three years in­to a PhI­II pro­gram for a failed Duchenne MD drug, Cataba­sis hauls down the flag and ad­mits de­feat

Three years ago, Catabasis CEO Jill Milne and the crew insisted they had found good reason for great cheer once they plumbed the data from their failed study for the Duchenne MD drug edasalonexent. Plunging into the extended open-label data, they said, you could find solid evidence of efficacy. And that justified a try in Phase III.

But they were wrong.

Monday, after the bell, the little biotech acknowledged that their pivotal attempt following the mid-stage flop was another failure. The primary, change in baseline on the North Star Ambulatory Assessment, and the secondary on timed function tests both came up short of statistical significance.

Ul­tragenyx slams the brakes on rare dis­ease study af­ter all 5 pa­tients are hit with a se­ri­ous set­back

Ultragenyx $RARE and its partners at GeneTx have been forced to halt early-stage study for a drug to treat rare cases of Angelman syndrome after all 5 of the patients being treated for the first time experienced a severe adverse event at the highest dose.

The patients in the study experienced “lower extremity weakness believed to be related to local inflammation due to GTX-102,” triggering a red light on dosing and enrollment.

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