Equi­l­li­um's im­muno-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug wins FDA's or­phan drug sta­tus; Van­da sues FDA for man­dat­ing lengthy dog study

→ San Diego-based Equi­l­li­um has nabbed an or­phan drug des­ig­na­tion for EQ001 on the verge of be­gin­ning a Phase Ib/II for the im­muno-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug. Al­so known as itolizum­ab, the drug was in-li­censed from In­dia’s Bio­con, which sells it in the coun­try as a pso­ri­a­sis treat­ment. Equi­l­li­um $EQ, how­ev­er, is fo­cus­ing its US clin­i­cal work on the pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of acute graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease — a strat­e­gy that has al­lowed it to skip fi­nanc­ing rounds and jump straight in­to an IPO.

→ Ear­li­er this week, Pain Ther­a­peu­tics $PTIE di­rect­ed its ire against the “FDA’s pur­port­ed sham­bol­ic reg­u­la­tions.” On the same day Van­da Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $VN­DA al­so fumed at the agency, say­ing the US health reg­u­la­tor had im­posed a non-bind­ing re­quire­ment that a nine-month non-ro­dent tox­i­c­i­ty study be con­duct­ed be­fore its drug, tradip­i­tant, can be stud­ied in hu­mans. The com­pa­ny is test­ing the drug in a 12-week dog study, but the agency is in­sist­ing on a 9-month study. When Van­da re­fused to con­duct this study, which usu­al­ly in­volves young bea­gles as the test sub­jects that must be sac­ri­ficed to per­mit eval­u­a­tion of the an­i­mal’s tis­sues, the FDA slapped a par­tial clin­i­cal hold on Van­da tri­als test­ing tradip­i­tant for longer than 12 weeks and did not pro­vide a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for its de­ci­sion, the com­pa­ny said. Con­se­quent­ly, Van­da has sued the agency.

“The FDA is ig­nor­ing a large body of pub­lished sci­en­tif­ic ev­i­dence which con­cludes that these chron­ic dog stud­ies do not of­fer any ad­di­tion­al use­ful in­for­ma­tion. That pol­i­cy is based on old, out­dat­ed sci­ence and re­quires the killing of too many dogs with­out any sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly jus­ti­fied pur­pose. Yet, com­pa­nies have been ret­i­cent to stand up to the FDA and de­mand that it change its pol­i­cy. Van­da is un­will­ing to ac­cept the sta­tus quo,” com­pa­ny chief Mi­hael Poly­meropou­los said in a state­ment. The al­le­ga­tions by Van­da — which al­so is­sued an open let­ter to the FDA — come months af­ter the agency said it was work­ing on new reg­u­la­tions to re­duce dog test­ing in drug de­vel­op­ment.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation for a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.