FDA ex­perts turn thumbs down on Karyopharm’s trou­bled pitch for an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK — but not all of them

The Karyopharm team $KP­TI took on a tough chal­lenge on Tues­day, try­ing to over­come an over­whelm­ing­ly crit­i­cal re­view by FDA reg­u­la­tors in win­ning over a pan­el of out­side ex­perts brought in to re­view their pitch for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval of se­linex­or for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma.

They lost, but nev­er­the­less found con­sid­er­able sup­port for this drug among the pan­elists.

The pan­el vot­ed 8 to 5 against an ap­proval, say­ing af­fir­ma­tive­ly that the FDA should take a wait-and-see at­ti­tude un­til the ran­dom­ized piv­otal study wraps to­ward the end of the year.

Karyopharm’s stock — bat­tered last Fri­day — took an­oth­er tum­ble af­ter the bell, drop­ping 19%.

FDA rep­re­sen­ta­tives were po­lite about it, but out­lined mul­ti­ple prob­lems with the da­ta that Karyopharm pre­sent­ed: Miss­ing da­ta due to dropouts, un­ac­cept­able re­al world ev­i­dence, an ab­sence of ev­i­dence of pos­i­tive sin­gle agent ac­tiv­i­ty (there are neg­a­tive re­sults), most­ly par­tial re­spons­es and much, much more — all in­for­ma­tion that the biotech failed to spot­light in the lead-up to the NDA. In one study the FDA cit­ed, the over­all sur­vival rate was worse in the se­linex­or arm.

Then there was the tox­i­c­i­ty pro­file, with a high fre­quen­cy of treat­ment emer­gent ad­verse events among pa­tients tak­ing the drug. The agency cit­ed a 94% rate of grade 3 or grade 4 ad­verse event. 10 deaths were due to a fa­tal ad­verse event in the main sin­gle arm study used for the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval. And 9 in 10 pa­tients re­quired a dose mod­i­fi­ca­tion, with a ma­jor­i­ty re­quir­ing 2 mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Giv­en the lim­it­ed ef­fi­ca­cy and tox­i­c­i­ty, the FDA as­sert­ed, “it is un­clear whether the ben­e­fit out­weighs the risk.” 

That’s not some­thing you want to hear in a pan­el re­view.

Mean­while, a piv­otal tri­al is un­der­way, and if a pa­tient de­mand­ed it, there are av­enues that pa­tients could use to get the drug with­out an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

The FDA’s on­col­o­gy pan­el is not a tough group, on av­er­age, to win over. There’s a big ap­petite for new drugs to treat can­cer pa­tients who have failed mul­ti­ple ther­a­pies, and a low bar on safe­ty. Not get­ting past that at this stage will like­ly set the bar high­er for when Karyopharm comes back with their piv­otal da­ta — pro­vid­ed that the agency goes ahead and re­jects it, as they have clear­ly in­di­cat­ed that they plan to.

The sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of votes in Karyopharm’s fa­vor, de­spite the FDA’s po­si­tion, does un­der­score just how anx­ious many of these ex­perts are about of­fer­ing ear­ly ap­provals, even when mul­ti­ple drugs are ap­proved for the same in­di­ca­tion. The bias is in fa­vor of more op­tions, which was clear­ly on dis­play here.

Dana Far­ber’s David Har­ring­ton joined the mi­nor­i­ty in fa­vor of pro­vid­ing an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval. “The da­ta are not con­clu­sive in ei­ther di­rec­tion,” he said, but…”I think we do pa­tients some po­ten­tial ben­e­fit if this is used con­struc­tive­ly.”

Just a slight nudge in its fa­vor from reg­u­la­tors may well have been enough to win an ap­proval, de­spite the tri­al is­sues. And that once again gets back to whether the de­vel­op­ers have a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the agency.

The biotech’s case wasn’t good enough, though, with the ma­jor­i­ty sid­ing with the reg­u­la­tors who have the fi­nal say now. Tox­i­c­i­ty was a ma­jor is­sue with the ex­perts who sided against a quick OK.

At best, Karyopharm like­ly faces a lengthy de­lay re­fil­ing an NDA. And that is if the Phase III da­ta are pos­i­tive.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

On a roll, Mer­ck blazes through a new seg­ment of the bio­mark­er trail

Merck has notched an approval for using Keytruda to treat a biomarker-based subset of first-line colorectal cancer patients with unresectable or metastatic tumors, as the pharma giant continues to find new niches for its blockbuster PD-1 star.

The OK is significant in a number of ways. Not only does it build on an accelerated approval for all tumors characterized as microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR); it also marks the first single treatment for colorectal cancer that doesn’t contain chemotherapy.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)

No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.