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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Genen­tech plots $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Genentech has committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Roche’s big South San Francisco hub will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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