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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.

S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Mod­er­na's Stéphane Ban­cel plans to dou­ble down on vac­cine pro­duc­tion, new vari­ants as mR­NA rules in pan­dem­ic fight

Stéphane Bancel thought he’d be sleeping more by now.

The 48-year-old Moderna CEO figured that by 2021 he’d have his vaccine through the clinic, authorized, and in mass production — that the hard part would be over. Instead, he’s still working Saturdays and Sundays, talking with his lab and manufacturing teams and fielding calls with two to three world leaders a day to answer their concerns about supply and emerging new variants.

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