FDA fol­lows through with a ground­break­ing OK for Yescar­ta, Gilead­'s new CAR-T break­through

Just two weeks af­ter Gilead closed on its $12 bil­lion Kite buy­out, the FDA has fol­lowed through with a ground­break­ing ap­proval of Yescar­ta (axi-cel), putting its CAR-T drug neck-and-neck with No­var­tis’ pi­o­neer Kym­ri­ah as the two drugs are prepped for a launch.

In a vir­tu­al heart­beat, Gilead used its con­sid­er­able cash re­serves to reach a deal to buy out Kite and axi-cel 6 weeks ago, ac­quir­ing its new­ly ap­proved CAR-T and all the next-gen tech­nol­o­gy now in the works. The ac­qui­si­tion made Gilead an overnight leader in CAR-T. While beat­en to a his­toric first FDA ap­proval for a CAR-T by an ag­gres­sive group at No­var­tis — ini­tial­ly green-light­ed at the end of Au­gust for pe­di­atric and young adult pa­tients with a form of acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia — Gilead is re­tain­ing most of the Kite gang and hon­ing its man­u­fac­tur­ing ef­fort, shav­ing off the time it takes to turn around these per­son­al­ized ther­a­pies.

In clas­sic ag­gres­sive form, Gilead came out gun­ning, of­fer­ing the ther­a­py at a price of $373,000 — $102,000 less than its ri­val at No­var­tis. On the oth­er hand, No­var­tis of­fered a val­ue-based deal to a num­ber of pay­ers in which they on­ly get re­im­burse­ment for pa­tients who re­spond to ther­a­py, evening the play­ing field.

Once again, FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb took the hon­ors in con­grat­u­lat­ing the de­vel­op­ers, as he did when No­var­tis came out in front. And this time, he promised to lend the agency’s help for the rest of the bur­geon­ing cell ther­a­py field. Said Got­tlieb:

“To­day marks an­oth­er mile­stone in the de­vel­op­ment of a whole new sci­en­tif­ic par­a­digm for the treat­ment of se­ri­ous dis­eases. In just sev­er­al decades, gene ther­a­py has gone from be­ing a promis­ing con­cept to a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion to dead­ly and large­ly un­treat­able forms of can­cer. This ap­proval demon­strates the con­tin­ued mo­men­tum of this promis­ing new area of med­i­cine and we’re com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing and help­ing ex­pe­dite the de­vel­op­ment of these prod­ucts. We will soon re­lease a com­pre­hen­sive pol­i­cy to ad­dress how we plan to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of cell-based re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. That pol­i­cy will al­so clar­i­fy how we will ap­ply our ex­pe­dit­ed pro­grams to break­through prod­ucts that use CAR-T cells and oth­er gene ther­a­pies. We re­main com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing the ef­fi­cient de­vel­op­ment of safe and ef­fec­tive treat­ments that lever­age these new sci­en­tif­ic plat­forms.”

The CD19 T cell im­munother­a­py — which reengi­neers pa­tient cells in­to a po­tent can­cer ther­a­py — has been ap­proved for adult pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry large B-cell lym­phoma af­ter two or more lines of sys­temic ther­a­py. That la­bel in­cludes dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL), pri­ma­ry me­di­asti­nal large B-cell lym­phoma, high-grade B-cell lym­phoma, and DL­B­CL aris­ing from fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma.

Alessan­dro Ri­va

The R&D work will now be led by Alessan­dro Ri­va, a for­mer No­var­tis sci­en­tist pro­mot­ed yes­ter­day to ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent in charge of on­col­o­gy R&D, with a seat on the lead­er­ship team.

Left be­hind in the race to CAR-T dom­i­nance, for now at least, is Juno Ther­a­peu­tics. Its ri­val drug was mired down by a lethal tox­i­c­i­ty is­sue that killed 5 pa­tients, forc­ing the biotech to switch over to its num­ber 2 pro­gram.

No­var­tis man­aged to sur­prise quite a few an­a­lysts by peg­ging Kym­ri­ah at $475,000, which is sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er than the $600,000 max­i­mum pro­vid­ed in some of the spreads. In a sto­ry we pub­lished yes­ter­day, how­ev­er, a num­ber of ex­perts said the full cost of ther­a­py may well end up at $1 mil­lion to $1.5 mil­lion.

The da­ta, though, are jaw drop­ping.

The FDA’s ap­proval comes through on the da­ta for ZU­MA-1, which demon­strat­ed that 72% of the pa­tients in­volved had an ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate to the ther­a­py. And 51% demon­strat­ed a com­plete re­mis­sion, with no sign of the can­cer left.

In a re­cent farewell let­ter to the staff, Kite CEO Arie Bellde­grun summed it up by writ­ing:

In a span of just a few short years, we grew from few­er than 10 em­ploy­ees to al­most 700. The com­pa­ny’s val­ue in­creased 2300% from the time of our IPO to near­ly $12 bil­lion with the ac­qui­si­tion by Gilead Sci­ences. Our clos­ing $180 per share price rep­re­sents not just a 960% ap­pre­ci­a­tion from the IPO price of $17 per share, but the largest ever pre-com­mer­cial bio­phar­ma ac­qui­si­tion.

Now Gilead can see if it’s ag­gres­sive team can make the most of the block­buster peak sales es­ti­mates that have yet to be climbed.

To­day, Bellde­grun had this to say:

“The FDA ap­proval of Yescar­ta is a land­mark for pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry large B-cell lym­phoma. This ap­proval would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the coura­geous com­mit­ment of pa­tients and clin­i­cians, as well as the on­go­ing ded­i­ca­tion of Kite’s em­ploy­ees. We must al­so rec­og­nize the FDA for their abil­i­ty to em­brace and sup­port trans­for­ma­tion­al new tech­nolo­gies that treat life-threat­en­ing ill­ness­es. We be­lieve this is on­ly the be­gin­ning for CAR T ther­a­pies.”

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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UP­DAT­ED: CMS to re­strict cov­er­age of Bio­gen's con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug to on­ly clin­i­cal tri­als

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday said it will only pay for Biogen’s Aduhelm and other FDA-approved anti-amyloid monoclonal antibodies for Alzheimer’s disease under CMS-approved randomized controlled trials.

The draft national coverage decision, which insurers nationwide are likely to follow, makes clear that CMS will be looking for randomized controlled trials that “demonstrate a clinically meaningful benefit in cognition and function.” That will be a tough task for Biogen, which previously showed conflicting benefits from past Aduhelm trials that were initially cut short due to futility and then resurrected for the accelerated approval.

CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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