FDA ap­proves trail­blaz­ing post­par­tum de­pres­sion ther­a­py, in cru­cial mile­stone for wom­en's health

In a land­mark de­ci­sion, the US health reg­u­la­tor has ap­proved the first treat­ment for moth­ers suf­fer­ing from post­par­tum de­pres­sion (PPD), a com­mon but of­ten over­looked and stig­ma­tized com­pli­ca­tion of child­birth that af­fects an es­ti­mat­ed 1 in 7 women.

The man­u­fac­tur­er of the in­jectable treat­ment — Sage Ther­a­peu­tics $SAGE — has been busy, rais­ing more than half a bil­lion dol­lars through the sale of its stock to sup­port the com­mer­cial roll­out of the drug, hir­ing a 180-strong sales­force and set­ting up se­lect cen­ters for women to get ad­min­is­tered with the one-time treat­ment un­der med­ical su­per­vi­sion.

The drug brex­anolone — to be sold as Zul­res­so — was orig­i­nal­ly de­signed for at-home in­fu­sions. But that ex­pec­ta­tion was scut­tled last year, af­ter the agency and ex­perts un­der­scored con­cerns about faint­ing episodes, which oc­curred in 6 of 140 women ex­posed to brex­anolone dur­ing in­fu­sion. Still, the drug won a ring­ing en­dorse­ment by the FDA ad­vi­so­ry pan­el on the ba­sis that des­ig­nat­ed fa­cil­i­ties to mon­i­tor ad­min­is­tra­tion (en­com­pass­ing a 12-hour fol­low-up to the 60-hour in­fu­sion) would be set up. Sage ac­com­mo­dat­ed this de­mand by sub­mit­ting a fresh risk eval­u­a­tion and mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies (REMS) plan, which pushed the FDA de­ci­sion date by three months to March 19.

Mike Cloo­nan

The treat­ment — which car­ries a boxed warn­ing high­light­ing the risk of sud­den loss of con­scious­ness — is ex­pect­ed to launch in late June, af­ter the DEA sched­ules the drug, con­sis­tent with oth­er ap­proved GABAer­gic ther­a­pies — agents that di­rect­ly mod­u­late the GA­BA sys­tem in the body or the brain.

Sage has as­signed a list price of $7,450 per Zul­res­so vial, re­sult­ing in a pro­ject­ed av­er­age course of ther­a­py cost of $34,000 per pa­tient be­fore dis­counts, a com­pa­ny spokesper­son said on Tues­day.

The drug de­vel­op­er has been con­sult­ing with “hun­dreds of pay­ers” to se­cure ac­cess, Sage’s chief busi­ness of­fi­cer Mike Cloo­nan said in an in­ter­view with End­points News ahead of the de­ci­sion.

In dis­cus­sions with phar­ma­cy ben­e­fit man­agers, the com­pa­ny feels “com­fort­able that we won’t have to re­bate a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion here, be­cause of the in­no­va­tion here we’re build­ing with Zul­res­so,” he said.

As part of its REMS strat­e­gy, the com­pa­ny is al­so work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing des­ig­nat­ed cen­ters where women can ac­cess the ther­a­py un­der med­ical su­per­vi­sion, Cloo­nan added, not­ing that “it can take months to get a site cer­ti­fied, reg­is­tered, and to es­tab­lish re­im­burse­ment path­ways.”

PPD is con­sid­ered a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion be­cause pa­tients car­ry a risk of sui­cide, but aware­ness of the dis­or­der is patchy com­pared to oth­er ma­jor de­pres­sive con­di­tions, part­ly due to the so­cial stig­ma of be­ing la­beled an “un­hap­py moth­er” — an is­sue a grow­ing num­ber of celebri­ty moth­ers such as mod­el and cook­book au­thor Chris­sy Teigen have brought in­to the cul­tur­al zeit­geist.

PPD, which is an um­brel­la term for sev­er­al mood dis­or­ders, has pro­found neg­a­tive ef­fects on the ma­ter­nal-in­fant bond and lat­er in­fant de­vel­op­ment. Al­though a num­ber of an­ti­de­pres­sants ex­ist in the mar­ket, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence of their ef­fi­ca­cy in PPD, they usu­al­ly take 6 to 8 weeks to kick in and none are specif­i­cal­ly ap­proved for PPD.

Ac­cord­ing to Sage, rough­ly 400,000 women in the Unit­ed States suf­fer from PPD any giv­en year, al­though on­ly about half are di­ag­nosed. With Zul­res­so, the com­pa­ny ini­tial­ly plans to tar­get the se­vere PPD pop­u­la­tion, rep­re­sent­ed by about 20-30% of those 200,000 iden­ti­fied pa­tients.

Since pa­tients must be con­tin­u­ous­ly mon­i­tored by a health­care pro­fes­sion­al and ac­com­pa­nied dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with their chil­dren when be­ing in­fused with the ther­a­py, Stifel an­a­lyst Paul Mat­teis’ fore­cast was com­par­a­tive­ly mod­est. He pro­ject­ed about $270 mil­lion in peak US sales in 2023, based on 10% pen­e­tra­tion in the se­vere PPD set­ting, with no use in mod­er­ate/mild pa­tients.

Mean­while, the com­pa­ny’s keen­ly watched oral PPD ther­a­py — SAGE-217 — is the one with big tick­et block­buster po­ten­tial, hav­ing re­cent­ly cleared a Phase III study with fly­ing col­ors. The pill — al­so be­ing eval­u­at­ed for ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der (MDD) and oth­er mood dis­or­ders — ap­pears to be an im­prove­ment over brex­anolone as it is not prone to in­duc­ing the loss of con­scious­ness side ef­fect seen with the use of the in­jectable. Sage in­tends to wait for da­ta from a piv­otal study on the pill in pa­tients with ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der (ex­pect­ed in 2020) be­fore sub­mit­ting a mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion.

Sage’s main ri­val is Mar­i­nus $MRNS, whose drug ganax­olone is al­so un­der eval­u­a­tion for PPD. An IV for­mu­la­tion of ganax­olone is cur­rent­ly in a Phase II study in se­vere PPD pa­tients, while mid-stage da­ta from an oral for­mu­la­tion of ganax­olone in mod­er­ate PPD pa­tients are ex­pect­ed in the first half of this year.

Zul­res­sa’s ap­proval bodes well for Mar­i­nus $MRNS, ar­gued Jef­feries’ An­drew Tsai in a re­cent note. “We think ap­proval would have a neu­tral im­pact on Mar­i­nus, de­spite Sage be­ing 2-3 years ahead, giv­en: 1) FDA ap­proval should de-risk the class/mech­a­nism broad­ly, and 2) the FDA has re­quired Sage to in­tro­duce a REMS pro­gram that lim­its its use case to a cer­ti­fied health­care fa­cil­i­ty (e.g. hos­pi­tal), which may open up an op­por­tu­ni­ty for Mar­i­nus. Sage‘s next-gen oral drug (SAGE-217) has al­so shown com­pelling ef­fi­ca­cy in Phase II/III PPD and MDD stud­ies and so far does not cause faint­ing (syn­cope) or loss of con­scious­ness (e.g. al­low­ing for home use), but our base case as­sump­tion is for the play­ers to share parts of the PPD mar­kets.”

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.