Failed again: Sanofi's Abl­ynx re­ports PhII lu­pus flop

Af­ter los­ing its high-pro­file rheuma­toid arthri­tis part­ner­ship just two years ear­li­er, Sanofi’s Bel­gium-based biotech Abl­ynx could once again put an Ab­b­Vie pact on the chop­ping block af­ter post­ing a Phase II flop this morn­ing.

Abl­ynx re­port­ed out bad news that vo­bar­il­izum­ab dis­ap­point­ed yet again, fail­ing to meet its pri­ma­ry end­points in a Phase II lu­pus study. It’s the same drug that fiz­zled in RA, which Ab­b­Vie punt­ed back in 2016.

The drug was the sub­ject of a glob­al li­cens­ing agree­ment inked with Ab­b­Vie back in 2013, which came with an up­front pay­ment of $175 mil­lion and mile­stones up to $665 mil­lion. The deal gave Ab­b­Vie the op­tion to li­cense vo­bar­il­izum­ab in RA and in lu­pus. It’s un­clear what Ab­b­Vie will choose, but the fu­ture isn’t look­ing good for vo­bar­il­izum­ab.

Robert Zeldin

“Ab­b­Vie will re­view the com­plete da­ta set when avail­able from the Phase II Steady SLE study to de­ter­mine whether to ex­er­cise its op­tion to li­cense vo­bar­il­izum­ab,” Abl­ynx said in a state­ment. “Should Ab­b­Vie ex­er­cise the op­tion, it would trig­ger a pay­ment to Abl­ynx. If the op­tion is not ex­er­cised, Abl­ynx’s agree­ment with Ab­b­Vie would ter­mi­nate.”

Abl­ynx, which has a nanobody plat­form tech and sev­er­al drugs in its pipeline, was snatched up by Sanofi for $4.8 bil­lion in Jan­u­ary. That was af­ter shoot­ing down two pre­vi­ous bids from No­vo Nordisk. The deal got Sanofi Abl­ynx’s lead drug capla­cizum­ab, which has shown con­sid­er­able promise in treat­ing the ul­tra-rare blood clot­ting dis­or­der ac­quired throm­bot­ic throm­bo­cy­topenic pur­pu­ra (aTTP).

Still, the vo­bar­il­izum­ab fail­ure will like­ly sting. The failed Phase II study en­rolled 312 pa­tients with lu­pus across five treat­ment arms. Ad­verse events that led to study drug dis­con­tin­u­a­tion were re­port­ed in 12.4% of all vo­bar­il­izum­ab treat­ed pa­tients com­pared to 6.5% in the place­bo group. Two deaths were re­port­ed in the vo­bar­il­izum­ab group.

“We are dis­ap­point­ed that vo­bar­il­izum­ab didn’t show a dose re­sponse in the analy­sis of the study’s pri­ma­ry end­point, how­ev­er, vo­bar­il­izum­ab was well tol­er­at­ed in all test­ed dose groups, con­firm­ing its fa­vor­able safe­ty pro­file,” said Abl­ynx CMO Robert Zeldin in a state­ment. “We will con­tin­ue to an­a­lyze the full da­ta set and thank the study par­tic­i­pants and their fam­i­lies as well as the in­ves­ti­ga­tors and staff who con­tributed to this study.”

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

James Collins, Broad Institute via Youtube

UP­DAT­ED: A space odyssey for new an­tibi­otics: MIT's ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach

Drug development is complex, expensive and comes with lousy odds of success — but in most cases, if you make it across the finish line brandishing a product with an edge (and play your cards right) it can be a lucrative endeavor.

As it stands, the antibiotic market is cursed — it harbors the stink of multiple bankruptcies, a dearth of innovation, and is consequently barely whetting the voracious appetites of big pharma or venture capitalists. Enter artificial intelligence — the biopharma industry’s cure-all for the pesky process of making a therapeutic, including data mining, drug discovery, optimal drug delivery, and addressable patient population.

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Gilead los­es two more patent chal­lenges on HIV pill, set­ting up court­room fight in Delaware

Gilead sustained two more losses in their efforts to rid themselves of an activist-backed patent lawsuit from the US government over a best-selling HIV pill.

Urged on by activists seeking to divert a portion of Gilead’s revenue to clinics and prevention programs, the Department of Health and Human Services made a claim to some of the patents for the best-selling HIV prevention drug, Truvada, also known as PrEP. Gilead responded by arguing in court that HHS’s patents were invalid.

Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Gilead was likely to lose the last two of those challenges as well. The USPTO ruled against Gilead on the first two patents earlier this month.

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Jim Scholefield via PR Newswire

Mer­ck los­es its chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, spot­light­ing tal­ent hunt for the hottest ti­tle in Big Phar­ma

Over the last few years we’ve seen the chief digital officer title become one of the hottest commodities in Big Pharma as global organizations hunt the best talent to sharpen the cutting edge of their tech platforms.

But Merck just discovered how hard it may be to keep them focused on pharma.

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Kathy High (file photo)

Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Kathy High has left Spark af­ter com­plet­ing $4.3B union with Roche

Kathy High dedicated the past seven years of her life shepherding experimental gene therapies she’s developed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the market as president and head of R&D at Spark Therapeutics. Now that the biotech startup is fully absorbed into Roche — with an FDA approval, a $4.3 billion buyout and a promising hemophilia program to boast — she’s ready to move on.

Roche confirmed her departure with Endpoints News and noted “she will take some well-deserved time off and then will begin a new chapter in a sabbatical at a university.”

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Bank­rupt an­tibi­otics mak­er Ar­a­digm turns to old part­ner/in­vestor for fi­nal $3M fire sale

Grifols once paid Aradigm $26 million for a stake in its inhaled antibiotics. But with Aradigm now in bankruptcy, the Spanish drugmaker is dishing out a final $3.2 million to buy it all.

The fire sale — which comes one year after Aradigm filed for Chapter 11 following a regulatory trifecta for disaster — will see Grifols obtain assets and IP to Apulmiq (formerly Pulmaquin and Linhaliq in Europe), Lipoquin and free ciprofloxacin. In addition to waiving its claims in the bankruptcy case, Grifols also agreed to milestone payments up to $3 million more upon any regulatory approvals.

DB­V's peanut pre­ven­tion patch ap­proach­es key stage of ap­proval process

Almost a year and a half after DBV Technologies pulled its peanut allergy immunotherapy patch from FDA review, the biotech will get their day in court. The FDA has scheduled an advisory committee hearing for May 15.

In the two-horse race to develop the first immunotherapy for peanut allergy, DBV had the early lead, filing an NDA for their patch in 2018. But on December 20 of that year, the company withdrew their application after, they said, meeting with regulators and determining they had not submitted “sufficient detail regarding data on manufacturing procedures and quality controls.” Aimmune filed their BLA 3 days later and won approval as the first immunotherapy for peanuts this month.

Tal Zaks (Moderna via YouTube)

For two decades, a new vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has been slow­ly ap­proach­ing prime time. Now, can it stop a pan­dem­ic?

Two months before the outbreak, Moderna CMO Tal Zaks traveled from Cambridge, MA to Washington DC to meet with Anthony Fauci and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health.

For two years, Moderna had worked closely with NIH researchers to build a new kind of vaccine for MERS, one of the deadliest new viruses to emerge in the 21st century. The program was one test for a new technology designed to be faster, cheaper and more precise than the ways vaccines had been made for over a century. They had gathered evidence the technology could work in principle, and Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a longtime advocate for better epidemic preparedness, wanted to see if it, along with a couple of other approaches, could work in a worst-case scenario: A pandemic.

“[We were] trying to find a test case for how to demonstrate if our technology could rapidly prepare,” Zaks told Endpoints News.

Zaks and Fauci, of course, wouldn’t have to wait to develop a new test. By year’s end, an outbreak in China would short circuit the need for one and throw them into 24/7 work on a real-world emergency. They also weren’t the only ones with new technology who saw a chance to help in a crisis.

An ocean away, Lidia Oostvogels was still on vacation and relaxing at her mother’s house in Belgium when her Facebook started changing. It was days after Christmas and on most people’s feeds, the news that China had reported a novel virus to the World Health Organization blurred into the stream of holiday sweaters and fir trees. But on Oostvogels’s feed, full of vaccine researchers and virus experts, speculation boiled: There was a virus in China, something contained to the country, but “exotic,” “weird,” and maybe having to do with animals. Maybe a coronavirus.

Lidia Oostvogels

“I was immediately thinking like, ‘Hey, this is something that if needed, we can play a role,'” Oostvogels told Endpoints.

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An­to­nio Gual­ber­to starts post-Ku­ra ca­reer at Ei­sai sub­sidiary H3; eF­FEC­TOR co-founder Siegfried Re­ich jumps to Turn­ing Point

→ Days after Kura Oncology announced the departure of co-founder Antonio Gualberto, we finally know where he wound up. Eisai subsidiary H3 Biomedicine has recruited him as CMO to finding the right patients to its four clinical-stage small molecule assets hitting genomic drivers of cancer.

“Challenges of these and many other precision medicine approaches are on one hand technical — a need for robust and precise diagnostics — and on the other hand derived by the challenge to alter standard clinical practice in settings where patient screening, e.g. by tumor DNA sequencing, is not standard practice,” he wrote to Endpoints News on his way back to Boston from Eisai’s Tokyo offices. “Only compelling clinical activity can drive clinicians and pathologists to modify standard clinical practice.”