FDA chief Got­tlieb is build­ing a reg­u­la­to­ry speed­way to ac­cel­er­ate gene ther­a­py de­vel­op­ment

In a ral­ly­ing cry for gene ther­a­py, FDA Com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb says he’s de­ter­mined to clear the path­way for drug de­vel­op­ers in a move to ac­cel­er­ate the first wave of gene ther­a­pies point­ed to the mar­ket.

The first ther­a­peu­tic area to ben­e­fit from new sur­ro­gate end­points will be he­mo­phil­ia, Got­tlieb said — im­me­di­ate­ly ring­ing a bell for com­pa­nies like Spark Ther­a­peu­tics $ONCE, Pfiz­er $PFE, Bio­Marin $BM­RN and uniQure $QURE, which are de­vel­op­ing cures for both ver­sions of the bleed­ing dis­or­der. Un­der the yet-to-be-an­nounced guide­lines, fac­tor pro­duc­tion may in some cas­es be suf­fi­cient as a mea­sure of ben­e­fit.

Got­tlieb dis­cussed the FDA’s pol­i­cy plans for gene ther­a­py Tues­day at the an­nu­al board meet­ing of the Al­liance for Re­gen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine. Quot­ing an MIT study that pre­dicts 40 FDA-ap­proved gene ther­a­py prod­ucts by the end of 2022, he ac­knowl­edged both the “breath­tak­ing” pace of progress and his agency’s role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing it all.

“FDA has more than 500 ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al new drug ap­pli­ca­tions in­volv­ing gene ther­a­py prod­ucts,” Got­tlieb said. “We’ve re­ceived more than one hun­dred such ap­pli­ca­tions last year alone. This shows the in­ten­si­ty of sci­en­tif­ic work go­ing on in this field.”

To speed things along, Got­tlieb sug­gest­ed, cer­tain gene ther­a­pies may qual­i­fy for the re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine ad­vanced ther­a­py (RMAT) des­ig­na­tion — a sta­tus es­tab­lished by the 21st Cen­tu­ry Cures Act that con­fers all the ben­e­fits of fast track and break­through des­ig­na­tions. De­vel­op­ers may al­so even­tu­al­ly ap­ply for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, where the FDA would be will­ing to ac­cept more un­cer­tain­ty in ex­change for promis­ing ther­a­pies in “dev­as­tat­ing dis­eases.” Longterm ef­fec­tive­ness — or even tra­di­tion­al mea­sure­ments, such as the demon­stra­tion of a re­duc­tion in bleed­ing rates in he­mo­phil­ia — could come in post­mar­ket fol­low-ups.

“The use of reg­istries and re­al-world ev­i­dence are like­ly to play an in­creas­ing­ly im­por­tant role in this re­spect,” the com­mis­sion­er said. “Part of our goal is to move to­ward a sys­tem that al­lows more re­al-time sur­veil­lance of safe­ty ques­tions af­ter new prod­ucts are ap­proved.”

But that still leaves the in­her­ent prob­lems in de­vel­op­ing and com­mer­cial­iz­ing gene ther­a­pies to be solved.

When you com­pare re­views of cell and gene ther­a­pies from those of tra­di­tion­al drugs, Got­tlieb point­ed out, you see that the break­down of clin­i­cal ver­sus prod­uct is­sues is al­most com­plet­ed in­vert­ed. For these ther­a­pies, clin­i­cal ef­fi­ca­cy is of­ten es­tab­lished ear­ly, thus tak­ing up on­ly 20% of the re­view, while re­view­ers of­ten de­vote 80% of the process to work out man­u­fac­tur­ing and qual­i­ty con­cerns.

Got­tlieb spot­light­ed two man­u­fac­tur­ing-re­lat­ed is­sues hin­der­ing the de­vel­op­ment of gene ther­a­py. The in­ef­fi­cient process of pro­duc­ing gene ther­a­py vec­tors — the lentivirus­es and ade­no-as­so­ci­at­ed virus­es that de­liv­ers the “cor­rect” copies of genes to pa­tients — makes it pro­hib­i­tive­ly ex­pen­sive. Fur­ther­more, the con­ven­tion­al phar­ma par­a­digm, which sep­a­rates ear­ly-stage pi­lot man­u­fac­tur­ing from the com­mer­cial process, means some treat­ments would be caught up, or even aban­doned, in the tran­si­tion.

The FDA is try­ing to help on that front, through an ini­tia­tive to im­prove the yield of cell lines and by “ac­tive­ly pur­su­ing new in­vest­ments” in con­tin­u­ous man­u­fac­tur­ing (as op­posed to batch man­u­fac­tur­ing) plat­forms.

With a field that’s mov­ing ahead rapid­ly and a tech­nol­o­gy that’s go­ing to “trans­form med­i­cine and hu­man health,” the FDA is keen to ad­dress any chal­lenges in man­u­fac­tur­ing and clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, Got­tlieb said.


Im­age: Scott Got­tlieb.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.