FDA ap­proves drug for rare con­di­tion that trig­gers in­tense pain from light ex­po­sure

Five years af­ter EU reg­u­la­tors ap­proved a ther­a­py to treat a rare in­her­it­ed meta­bol­ic con­di­tion that caus­es ex­treme sen­si­tiv­i­ty to light, the FDA has en­dorsed the treat­ment — mark­ing the first-ever ap­proval for pa­tients with ery­thro­poi­et­ic pro­to­por­phyr­ia (EPP) in the Unit­ed States.

The ther­a­py, which is ad­min­is­tered via an im­plant in­sert­ed sub­cu­ta­neous­ly, was de­vel­oped by Aus­tralian drug mak­er Clin­u­v­el Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and is sold as Sce­nesse.

In pa­tients with EPP, the ac­tiv­i­ty of fer­rochelatase — an en­zyme in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of a key com­po­nent in he­mo­glo­bin — is com­pro­mised. Re­duced fer­rochelatase ac­tiv­i­ty caus­es the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of pro­to­por­phyrin IX (PPIX) — and light ex­po­sure on the skin can re­act with PPIX, spark­ing in­tense pain, red­ness and thick­en­ing.

Sce­nesse, known chem­i­cal­ly as afame­lan­otide, binds with the melanocortin-1 re­cep­tor on the sur­face of melanocyte cells found in the epi­der­mis of the skin. This trig­gers a cas­cade of re­ac­tions that re­sult in the melanocyte fa­vor­ing the pro­duc­tion of eu­me­lanin (black/brown) over pheome­lanin (red/yel­low). The pro­duc­tion of eu­me­lanin in the skin in­de­pen­dent of ex­po­sure to sun­light or ar­ti­fi­cial light sources of­fers the pa­tient the abil­i­ty to cope with the mol­e­c­u­lar dam­age caused by light.

In Jan­u­ary, STAT pro­filed a Con­necti­cut woman who com­pared the pain she felt from light ex­po­sure to the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing boil­ing oil poured on her hands and knees. On­ly around 600 Amer­i­cans suf­fer from EPP. Switzer­land and Italy had Clin­u­v­el agree to pay 80% of the drug’s cost be­fore al­low­ing it, ac­cord­ing to STAT.

“We are de­ter­min­ing our pric­ing strat­e­gy (in the Unit­ed States) but our ap­proach is go­ing to be far more trans­par­ent and fair than many of our peers. For this we re­fer you to our ap­proach to pric­ing in Eu­rope,” a Clin­u­v­el spokesper­son told End­points News.

Sce­nesse is priced in Eu­rope at €14,101 per in­jectable im­plant, or €56,404 per pa­tient based on four in­jectable im­plants per an­num (ex­clud­ing lo­cal tax­es), the spokesper­son added.

The US ap­proval for Sce­nesse was based on twin place­bo-con­trolled clin­i­cal tri­als. In the first 93-pa­tient tri­al, 48 sub­jects were giv­en Sce­nesse, while the rest were on place­bo.  Af­ter 180 days of ex­po­sure to di­rect sun­light be­tween 10 am and 6 pm, pa­tients on the ther­a­py were pain-free for a me­di­an 64 hours, ver­sus 41 hours for those in the place­bo arm.

In the oth­er 74-pa­tient study, 38 re­ceived Sce­nesse, while the rest got place­bo. Pa­tients were fol­lowed for 270 days which they spent out­doors be­tween 10 am and 3 pm and were as­sessed for pain lev­els — al­though the analy­sis did not in­clude sun ex­po­sure on days pa­tients re­port­ed spend­ing time in a com­bi­na­tion of both di­rect sun­light and shade. The me­di­an to­tal num­ber of hours un­der these con­di­tions in which pa­tients felt ‘no pain’ was six hours for pa­tients re­ceiv­ing Sce­nesse and 0.75 hours for pa­tients re­ceiv­ing place­bo.

Clin­u­v­el formed in 1987 af­ter re­searchers start­ed work­ing on the idea of syn­the­siz­ing hu­man hor­mones to pro­tect the skin.

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: Bris­tol My­ers sus­pends clin­i­cal tri­als, grounds field team; Vir ush­ers an­ti­body can­di­dates to hu­man test­ing

The global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is manifesting more profoundly every day. With Spain’s death toll now surpassing China’s and India on full lockdown, the number of confirmed cases around the world has exceeded 436,000 while recoveries edged close to 112,000.

While the outbreak derails R&D at another pharma giant, several drugmakers have some encouraging updates on both experimental and repurposed molecules. Philanthropic campaigns in anticipation of the economic fallout continue. An Australian biotech is taking extreme measures to hunker down. There’s also an alternative epidemiology model emerging out of the UK, stirring up more discussion regarding the true extent of the infections in the country.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.