Fac­ing ques­tions on pa­tient deaths, Au­rinia shares crater in wake of lu­pus study

Au­rinia Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals man­aged to kick up a brief spike in its share price this morn­ing af­ter re­leas­ing some up­beat num­bers from a Phase IIb study of its lu­pus drug vo­closporin. But it didn’t last long. The shares $AUPH quick­ly cratered, plung­ing by 48%, as ques­tions turned to a clus­ter of deaths tracked in its two dosage arms as well as the cost of the piv­otal study need­ed for an ap­proval.

At first blush, the num­bers in the 265-pa­tient study looked sol­id. The low dose of the drug hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on com­plete re­spons­es for the lu­pus pa­tients. But dur­ing the fol­lowup call, an­a­lysts ques­tioned why the low dose would beat out the high dose on CRs. They al­so ze­roed in on 13 deaths record­ed in the study – 10 in the low-dose arm, 2 in the high-dose arm and on­ly one in the con­trol group.

Forty per­cent of all the pa­tients in the study were en­rolled in Asia, com­pa­ny ex­ecs re­spond­ed, where most of the deaths oc­curred. The deaths were not re­lat­ed to the drug, they said in the call, and might be at­trib­uted to the kind of treat­ment stan­dards in dai­ly prac­tice in Asia. In the state­ment, the com­pa­ny con­ced­ed that:

The over­all rate of se­ri­ous ad­verse events (SAEs) was high­er in both vo­closporin groups but the na­ture of SAEs is con­sis­tent with high­ly ac­tive LN.

Mary Anne Doo­ley, the chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the study, main­tained that vo­closporin “could po­ten­tial­ly change the cur­rent treat­ment par­a­digm for LN.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors com­bined vo­closporin to the cur­rent stan­dard of care of my­cophe­no­late mofetil, com­par­ing it to a com­bo us­ing a place­bo.

The drug, though, wasn’t al­ways that much bet­ter than the place­bo/SoC arm. In the study, 32.6% of pa­tients on low dose achieved CR, com­pared to 27.3% on high dose and 19.3% in the con­trol arm. Leerink’s Joseph Schwartz not­ed that the deaths will need to be stud­ied more, adding that the pos­i­tive re­sults al­so left some­thing to be de­sired. He added:

“At first glance, the ef­fi­ca­cy seen in the drug arms looks low­er than what we had ex­pect­ed, but still re­spectable. The study was 80% pow­ered to de­tect a re­mis­sion rate of 41% for the drug ver­sus 20% for place­bo based on a planned sam­ple size of 258 sub­jects. CR rates as low as 35% vs. 15% or as high as 47% ver­sus 25% would al­so main­tain 80% pow­er. The re­verse dose re­sponse was sur­pris­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly since this would have been pulled down by ac­count­ing for the rel­a­tive­ly high num­ber of deaths in the drug arm.”

The Cana­di­an biotech not­ed that it had $12.1 mil­lion in cash at the end of H1, leav­ing it look­ing for fresh funds with a bat­tered stock price.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Fireside chat between Hal Barron and John Carroll, UKBIO19

It’s time we talked about bio­phar­ma — live in Lon­don next week

Zoom can only go so far. And I think at this stage, we’ve all tested the limits of staying in touch — virtually. So I’m particularly happy now that we’ve revved up the travel machine to point myself to London for the first time in several years.

Whatever events we have lined up, we’ve always built in plenty of opportunities for all of us to get together and talk. For London, live, I plan to be right out front, meeting with and chatting with the small crowd of biopharma people we are hosting on October 12 at Silicon Valley Bank’s London headquarters. And there’s a lengthy mixer at the end I’m most looking forward to, with several networking openings between sessions.

Take­da to pull key hy­poparathy­roidism drug from the mar­ket af­ter years of man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

Takeda on Tuesday morning made an announcement that almost 3,000 people with the rare disease known as hypoparathyroidism were fearing.

Due to unresolved supply issues and manufacturing woes, Takeda said it will cut its losses and discontinue its hypoparathyroidism drug, known as Natpara (parathyroid hormone), halting all manufacturing of the drug by the end of 2024, but the entire inventory will be available until depleted or expired, a company spokesperson said via email.

Pfizer and BioNTech's original Marvel comic book links evolving Covid vaccine science to Avengers' evolving villain-fighting tools.(Source: Pfizer LinkedIn post)

Pfiz­er, BioN­Tech part­ner with Mar­vel for Avengers and Covid-fight­ing com­ic book

Pfizer and BioNTech are collaborating with Marvel to celebrate “everyday” people getting Covid-19 vaccines in a custom comic book.

In the “Everyday Heroes” digital comic book, an evolving Ultron, one of the Avengers’ leading villains, is defeated by Captain America, Ironman and others. The plotline and history of Ultron is explained by a grandfather who is waiting with his family at a clinic for Covid-19 vaccinations.

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Kaile Zagger, Infinant Health CEO

UC Davis mi­cro­bio­me spin­out re­brands in­fant sup­ple­ment busi­ness with na­ture fo­cus

When Kaile Zagger took the helm of UC Davis spinout Evolve Biosystems several months ago, the company billed itself as a probiotic maker.

However, she believes the company’s Evivo supplement designed to help infants develop a healthy gut microbiome is “so much more” — and that, she said, calls for a rebrand.

Evolve has, well, evolved into Infinant Health, the company announced on Monday. The new name is a mash-up of the words “infant” and “infinite,” representing the company’s goal of expanding beyond infant care. While its sole product, Evivo, is intended for newborns, Infinant is “quickly developing” an option for kids through the age of two.

FDA+ roundup: Ad­comm date set for Cy­to­ki­net­ics heart drug; New gener­ic drug guid­ance to re­duce fa­cil­i­ty de­lays

The FDA has set Dec. 13 as the day that its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will review Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug, setting up a key vote ahead of a Feb. 28, 2023 PDUFA date.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil, read out its first Phase III in November 2020, hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as the key to breaking into the market, failing to significantly differ in reducing cardiovascular death from placebo.

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Bob Azelby, Eliem Therapeutics CEO

Eliem says ear­li­er drug ex­po­sure is­sues have been re­solved, drops one epilep­sy in­di­ca­tion

After being forced to delay two Phase IIa trials and blaming CMC issues on a Phase Ib miss, Eliem Therapeutics believes it’s now in the clear.

The Seattle and UK-based biotech put out word Wednesday morning about how it conducted new early-stage studies to confirm why low exposure issues arose during the Phase Ib. After researchers compared the results of the studies, Eliem found “no meaningful difference” between them and ruled out CMC as the reason for the foiled Phase Ib study, the company said in a press release.

GSK touts topline win for PD-1 in head-to-head with Keytru­da — while steer­ing next big check­point drug in­to PhI­II

GSK is claiming a win for what it calls the largest head-to-head trial pitting a PD-1 against Merck’s best-selling Keytruda in a type of lung cancer, as its Jemperli met the primary endpoint of objective response rate.

In a separate positive move, GSK says it’s moving both arms of the COSTAR Lung trial into Phase III to test Jemperli as well as the TIM-3 inhibitor cobolimab.

Hesham Abdullah, GSK’s global head of oncology development, said in a statement that the two trials “support the ambition for dostarlimab to become the backbone of our ongoing immuno-oncology-based research and development programme when used alone and in combination with standard of care and future novel cancer therapies, particularly in patients with currently limited treatment options.”

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