FDA adds fresh ‘break­through’ for No­var­tis' can­cer com­bo Tafin­lar and Mekin­ist

Just four months af­ter adding an FDA OK to sell its com­bo of Tafin­lar and Mekin­ist for non-small cell lung can­cer with a BRAF V600E mu­ta­tion, No­var­tis says that US reg­u­la­tors have hand­ed them an­oth­er break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion on stage III melanoma.

The BRAF/MEK com­bi­na­tion — bagged in their big as­set swap with Glax­o­SmithK­line — should now get VIP treat­ment for stage III melanoma cas­es in­volv­ing this par­tic­u­lar mu­ta­tion af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors post­ed a 53% re­duc­tion in the risk of death or re­cur­rence in Phase III com­pared to place­bo last month.

Samit Hi­rawat, No­var­tis On­col­o­gy

The red-car­pet treat­ment No­var­tis has won at the FDA un­der­scores its in­creased fo­cus on on­col­o­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly af­ter the re­cent ap­proval of its pi­o­neer­ing CAR-T drug Kym­ri­ah.

The pri­ma­ry end­point in the study was re­lapse-free sur­vival. In­ves­ti­ga­tors re­viewed the da­ta at ES­MO in Madrid last month, with a 58% re­lapse-free sur­vival rate in the com­bo arm com­pared to 39% in the place­bo group.

At the time study co-au­thor Ax­el Hauschild said:

There is no stan­dard of care for the ad­ju­vant treat­ment of stage III melanoma. In­ter­fer­on is ap­proved for this sit­u­a­tion but im­proves rel­a­tive re­lapse-free sur­vival by just 20% com­pared to place­bo.

“There is a need for more ef­fec­tive treat­ment op­tions for stage III melanoma pa­tients at a high risk of re­cur­rence fol­low­ing sur­gi­cal re­sec­tion,” said Samit Hi­rawat, who runs R&D in No­var­tis On­col­o­gy. “We thank the FDA for rec­og­niz­ing the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vance­ment Tafin­lar and Mekin­ist may pro­vide in this ad­ju­vant set­ting.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Vicente Anido (University of West Virginia via YouTube)

Aerie fires CEO af­ter lead pro­gram flop, com­ments about pri­ma­ry end­points be­ing 'not re­quired'

Aerie Pharmaceuticals CEO Vicente Anido has left the company less than a week after trying to chart a Phase III study in the wake of a serious Phase IIb flop.

Anido’s last day at Aerie was Friday, the biotech announced in a news release Tuesday morning, and Benjamin McGraw is taking his place in an interim role. The now former CEO was terminated without cause, according to an SEC filing.

The board has started looking for a full-time chief to take his place.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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