En­cour­ag­ing gene ther­a­py da­ta give uniQure an in­jec­tion of con­fi­dence as it preps PhI­II show­down with Spark

Gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny uniQure start­ed the week in style with the news that it’s dosed the first pa­tient in its Phase III tri­al — a cru­cial step to­ward its quest for the best-in-class, first-in-mar­ket ti­tle in he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py. And to­day it’s of­fer­ing an up­date on the kind of mid-stage da­ta it’s armed with.

Matt Ka­pus­ta

Mean Fac­tor IX lev­els hit 38% of nor­mal lev­els 12 weeks af­ter the three pa­tients tracked in the Phase IIb study re­ceived the one-time in­jec­tion, reach­ing what the com­pa­ny calls “the nor­mal range” and well above the 12% com­mon­ly re­gard­ed as suf­fi­cient to sub­stan­tial­ly re­duce spon­ta­neous bleeds.

It’s the first look at da­ta three months post-ad­min­is­tra­tion — sig­nif­i­cant be­cause most pa­tients don’t be­gin to start plateau­ing un­til that point, CEO Matt Ka­pus­ta tells me in a pre­view of the re­sults, which fol­lows an up­beat snap­shot in No­vem­ber on six-week da­ta.

So have they reached the peak in FIX lev­els? Prob­a­bly not, Ka­pus­ta said.

The best way to glean that is we ac­tu­al­ly did a Phase I/II study with the first gen­er­a­tion prod­uct that is near­ly iden­ti­cal to the AMT-061 and in­clud­ed pa­tients that were at the same dose. […] Of the 9 pa­tients that were off of pro­phy­lax­is, 8 of them had Fac­tor IX ac­tiv­i­ty that was high­er at 52 weeks or — their lat­est mea­sure­ment was high­er than what it was at 12 weeks. […] So we don’t know if that will con­tin­ue to be the case, but that’s prob­a­bly — look­ing at those ki­net­ics from the Phase I/II study sug­gests that there is po­ten­tial for mean­ing­ful in­creas­es go­ing for­ward.

Since the pa­tients be­gan dos­ing at dif­fer­ent times, uniQure al­so gleaned in­sights in­to the (slight­ly) longer term FIX ac­tiv­i­ties: 48% for the first pa­tient at week 16; 25% for the sec­ond pa­tient at week 14; and 51% for the third pa­tient at 12 weeks.

“It’s not un­usu­al to have a three, maybe four-fold mul­ti­ple be­tween your min­i­mum and your max­i­mum,” Ka­pus­ta says. “Here of course we’ve got about a two-fold. So in our view the vari­abil­i­ty is ac­tu­al­ly tighter.”

The new round of da­ta drew uni­ver­sal ap­plause from an­a­lysts, with Chardan spec­u­lat­ing that the com­pa­ny is now a prime takeover tar­get. Shares are up 4%.

A chief ri­val of Spark Ther­a­peu­tics — which is tap­ping in­to he­mo­phil­ia as a fol­low-up to its ground­break­ing gene ther­a­py for the eye — Lex­ing­ton, MA- and Am­s­ter­dam-based uniQure $QURE pleased in­vestors and an­a­lysts back in No­vem­ber when it re­port­ed mean FIX lev­els of 31% at six weeks.

While care­ful to note that “we don’t love com­ment­ing on oth­er peo­ple’s da­ta,” Ka­pus­ta cit­ed the high lev­els of FIX ac­tiv­i­ty, low im­muno­genic­i­ty — none of uniQure’s pa­tients have re­quired im­muno­sup­pres­sion so far — and the fact that it doesn’t ex­clude pa­tients with pre-ex­ist­ing an­ti­bod­ies to AAV vec­tors as rea­sons to be­lieve that they have a “high­ly com­pa­ra­ble if not po­ten­tial­ly an op­ti­mized or su­pe­ri­or tar­get prod­uct pro­file.”

But the re­al show­down will take place in the piv­otal stage, as uniQure catch­es up with a Phase III pro­gram that Spark part­ner Pfiz­er be­gan last sum­mer.

With 20 ac­tive sites across the US and Eu­rope, uniQure’s Phase III is ex­pect­ed to en­roll 50 pa­tients by the end of the year. Top-line da­ta on the pri­ma­ry end­point — FIX ac­tiv­i­ty af­ter six months — should be ready in late 2020, paving the way for a BLA sub­mis­sion in 2021, Ka­pus­ta said.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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Nkarta CEO Paul Hastings at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Nkar­ta un­der­scores safe­ty of CAR-NK, boasts ear­ly re­spons­es

The first generation of personalized CAR-T therapies made big waves in the treatment of lymphoma for their stunning efficacy. Nkarta is hoping its off-the-shelf natural killer cell approach will stand out on safety — while keeping some of those impressive numbers on responses.

In a new update from its Phase I dose escalation study, the South San Francisco-based biotech reported that seven out of 10 patients treated with the highest doses of its NK cell therapy, NKX019, achieved a complete response, translating to a complete response rate of 70%.

Pfiz­er-backed Me­di­ar Ther­a­peu­tics ropes in an­oth­er Big Phar­ma in­vestor

A biotech centered on treating fibrosis — born out of Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has received a financial boost.

According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $31,761,186 in its latest funding round, which includes 17 investors. The filing lists six names attached to the company, including Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures and Mediar’s acting CEO.

Ken Greenberg, SonoThera CEO

Gene ther­a­py goes acoustic as ARCH-backed biotech launch­es with ul­tra­sound gene de­liv­ery plat­form

After co-founding two biotechs off virus-based therapies, one for pain and one for cancer, Ken Greenberg decided to go in a different direction for his newest biotech, SonoThera.

Based out of San Francisco, SonoThera announced Monday morning that it raised $60.75 million to develop new gene therapies — but delivered by ultrasound, which Greenberg says can address the major challenges facing more conventional viral gene therapies.

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Sekar Kathiresan, Verve Therapeutics CEO

Verve re­veals let­ter from FDA that lays out con­di­tions to lift base edit­ing tri­al hold

We now know why Verve’s lead candidate was placed on hold last month by US regulators.

In an SEC filing, Verve laid out the FDA’s conditions for lifting the hold on its lead therapy, VERVE-101. That includes submitting preclinical data about potency differences in human versus non-human cells, risks of gene editing germline cells, and off-target analyses in non-hepatocyte cell types.

The FDA also wants clinical data from the ongoing Heart-1 trial, and to modify the trial protocol in the US to add additional contraceptive measures and increase the length of a staggering interval between the dosing of participants.